The Uneven Path of UK Devolution: Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Regionalism in England – Cornwall and the North-East Compared

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Abstract

Within the context of the devolution process in England, Cornwall and the North-East stand out in contrasting comparison. The North-East was given the opportunity to vote for a regional assembly, which it rejected in 2004, while the strong popular movement for an assembly in Cornwall was ignored by central government. This is reflected in the literature on the English question and regionalism in the UK, which focuses on the example of the North-East, and largely overlooks the grassroots support in Cornwall and the opportunities for understanding regionalism that this could provide. In this article, we explore why this might be the case, developing a comparison between the two areas in the context of the campaigns for setting up directly elected assemblies. We look at the territorial status of the two areas, how the respective campaigns were organised, the types of group involved, the motives that were driving activists, and each region's political significance to Labour. We find central control of the political agenda to be a key issue behind the failure of English regionalism.

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