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Regional Development, Distinctiveness, and the Growth of Identity in Cornish Politics

Regional Development

Joanie Willett and John Tredinnick-Rowe, Politics at the University of Exeter, Cornwall.

Key findings

  • Despite the fears that globalisation would remove the distinctiveness between different regions, regional identities are getting stronger in many parts of the world.
  • Cornish identity has also been getting stronger and more visible in recent decades, and has become a key underpinning factor in many different aspects of Cornish politics.
  • One of the reasons why this has happened is because there is a tight inter-relationship between identities, regionalism, and economic development.


Growing up in the 1980’s in Cornwall, it was so rare to see a Cornish flag that I didn’t even know what it looked like. I thought it was black and gold. Now, in 2020, even a casual visitor cannot fail to notice the St Piran’s cross, dual language signage, and various other symbolisms of Cornishness throughout the region. In this study we explore this by looking at the growth of regionalism and identity politics in contemporary economic development in Cornwall. In common with many other regional identities, Cornish identity used to be discussed as being at risk of losing its distinctiveness. However, we find that rather than the globalised neo-liberal economy signalling an end to territorial differentiation and the homogenisation of identities in the UK and in Europe, it has provided the spaces and platforms for territorial identities to make a resurgence. Whilst the shift towards globalisation led to diminished national trade barriers and encouraged a globalised or supranational economy, it also allowed regions to become increasingly autonomous economic units. The current and growing wave of movements across Europe and includes Scotland, Catalunya, and Friesland which call for greater political autonomy and/or independence is part of this.

Regions, or territorial spaces smaller than that of the nation-state, have become important economic units for a number of reasons. These include gaining competitive advantage, attracting investment, operating within the global market and the development of social and human capital. As a political concept, regionalism has brought with it a fusion of culture, politics and economic development. This has become very evident in Cornwall, where Cornish national identity has become a growth area within popular discourse, fostered by a feedback loop between local economic development narratives and the resonance of Cornish identity. Indeed, quite aside from the protections put in place to keep the Cornish Pasty made in Cornwall, you will see symbols of Cornishness used not only by cultural organisations, but also by a range of different businesses as diverse as sandwich shops to skin-care products. And if we want any more confirmation about the deep interrelationship between culture, identity and the economy? Cornwall Council’s 2013 economic development strategy, was called an Economy and Culture strategy, fusing the economy and culture right from its title.

»Read full paper on Open Research Exeter (ORE)