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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK


Plaid makes breakthrough



Plaid Cymru has scored some significant breakthroughs in the Welsh Assembly elections.

The nationalist party has picked up seats outside its traditional heartland areas by taking control of the Labour strongholds of Islwyn and the Rhondda in the south Wales valleys.

Plaid gained its first Westminster seat in 1966 when it took Carmarthen. It later lost this west Wales seat, but in the 1970s took Meirionnydd, Caernarfon and later Ynys Mon in north Wales, holding on to all these seats in subsequent elections.

It added Ceredigion in 1992 on the biggest swing of that General Election, when it came from fourth place to win the seat from the Liberal Democrats.

However, all those four seats - and Plaid's main target seat of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, where the party came a close second in 1997 - are in areas where the majority of people are Welsh-speakers.

The party has struggled to break through outside those "heartland" areas, where its support is underpinned by people's cultural allegiance.

Breakthrough

Its main hopes for a breakthrough elsewhere in Wales had focused on the Labour-dominated south Wales valleys, where the party had often scored high results in by-elections, and where they had briefly controlled some councils, such as Merthyr Tydfil in the 1970s and Taff Ely in the early 1990s.

Plaid remains the second party in many south Wales valleys councils, but for some years has not threatened Labour's control.

The National Assembly elections, however, seem to have given Plaid its longed-for breakthrough.

It has taken Islwyn, the former seat of the former leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock. Then it picked up Rhondda, which normally returns Labour majorities of more than 20,000 in Westminster elections.

In fighting the assembly elections, Plaid added the tag "The Party of Wales" to its usual Welsh title, and stressed it should no longer be seen as the party of Welsh speakers. Plaid also toned down its traditional stance on independence, saying it had never been the party's aim.

As Plaid celebrates its successes, it looks as though that strategy of appealing to voters outside its heartland has borne fruit, leaving it as the second party in Wales's new democratic institution.



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