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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK

UK Politics

Devolution becomes reality

Devolution has become a reality with the first sittings of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

Vote 99 Special Coverage
Labour leader Donald Dewar and his nationalist counterpart Alex Salmond were among the first Members of the Scottish Parliament to be sworn in on Wednesday morning.

[ image:  ]
The SNP leader - wearing a white rose, the symbol of the Jacobites - insisted his oath of allegiance was to the Scottish people and not the Queen.

The slow progress of talks aimed at creating a Lib-Lab coalition to rule the new parliament also threatened to overshadow the historic event.

The BBC's Andrew Cassell: "This simple, efficient process was unburdened by sentiment and pomp"
Discussions have so far failed to find a way forward on the Liberal Democrats key demand of the abolition of student tuition fees.

Mr Dewar has indicated he would be prepared to rule in a minority administration if a compromise cannot be reached.

Michael becomes first secretary

The National Assembly in Cardiff was opened later on Wednesday morning by Welsh Labour leader Alun Michael, who spoke in both English and Welsh.

[ image:  ]
The assembly has fewer powers than its Scottish equivalent, but provides the people of Wales with an unprecedented say in the running of the principality.

The first action of the assembly was to approve the nomination of Plaid Cymru peer Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas as the body's presiding officer.

The BBC's Wyre Davies: "The Welsh Assembly will have less powers than its Scottish counterpart"
Mr Michael then received an unopposed nomination to become the assembly's first secretary from Labour's Rhodri Morgan, whom he previously defeated in a leadership contest.

But there was a shock for former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies - who resigned after a "moment of madness" on Clapham Common - when he was left out of the Welsh cabinet announced by the new first secretary.

New style of politics

The BBC's John Pienaar: "The coalition talks are still deadlocked"
Labour is the largest party in the assembly and the new parliament following last Thursday's elections.

Crucially, however, it lacks an overall majority in either.

[ image: Donald Dewar: Seeking a coalition to govern]
Donald Dewar: Seeking a coalition to govern
This situation is widely expected to lead to the development of a new style of politics.

All the parties have expressed a desire to ditch the adversarial tone of Westminster in favour of operating through consensus and partnership.

However, Labour is still determined to be the dominant force.

Mr Dewar is trying to achieve this by wrapping up a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Welsh leader Alun Michael explains his decision to go it alone
While negotiations started well they appear to be stuck on the scrapping of university tuition fees - a move wanted by all the parties except Labour.

By contrast Mr Michael has already decided to run the assembly as a minority administration, securing partnerships with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis.

Anniversary of Smith's death

Scotland Correspondent Colin Blane: Hard to over-estimate significance of the day
In Scotland, Mr Dewar is likely to be elected first minister on Thursday, the top post in the parliament, even if a coalition has not been agreed by then.

The parliament's opening day had a special poignancy as it is also the fifth anniversary of the death of Labour leader John Smith whose ambition was to bring about Scottish devolution.

After the 129 MSPs had been sworn into, the parliament voted to appoint former Liberal Party leader Lord Steel as its presiding officer.

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