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Monday, June 1, 1998 Published at 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK

UK Politics: Talking Politics

1999 and beyond

Vaughan Roderick, Welsh Affairs Editor, BBC Wales

Given Labour's dominance of Welsh politics it is often assumed that Labour will dominate the National Assembly. In fact the election result is difficult to predict.

The Welsh electorate is well-used to tactical voting and the voting pattern varies enormously between European, Westminster and local elections.

It is entirely possible with the proportional element within the Assembly voting system that Labour will fall short of an overall majority.

Despite the uncertainty over the election outcome, the broad policies the Assembly is likely to adopt are fairly clear given the close consensus that exists between Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats.

Indeed that consensus is so strong it is posible that the first Assembly Cabinet might include representatives of all three parties, even if Labour has an overall majority.

[ image: How Wales voted in the devolution referendum]
How Wales voted in the devolution referendum
The picture that emerged of Wales on referendum night was one of a deeply divided country. While the rural Welsh-speaking West and the deprived former mining valleys voted "Yes" the anglicised East and the prosperous M4 corridor was firmly in the "No" camp.

Healing that division and others in a notoriously divided nation will be the greatest challenge facing the new Assembly.

The North-South Divide

Driving from the South to the North of Wales is a pleasant, but tortuously slow experience. The main North-South artery begins its life in Cardiff as a dual carriageway, dwindles to a single carriagway within 25 miles and within 50 is little more than a twisting country road.

What rail service exists involves a detour through England with frequent changes.

The Assembly will have to balance the political need to improve these links in an attempt to break down the two areas ignorance of each other with the continuing economic imperative of improving East-West links.

The Language Divide

Language in Wales can, and has been, an explosive issue.

Language campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s involved widespread civil disobedience and created a vitriolic backlash from some non-Welsh speakers.

Addressing that tension was one of the acievments of the last Conservative government. The establishment of the Welsh TV chanel, S4C, the passing of the Welsh Language Act and the success of education policy in reversing the decline in the number speaking the language helped to restore harmnony.

The Assembly will probably continue in a similar vein but playing "the language card" can be a tempting tactic for politicians on both sides of the divide.

The Prosperity Divide

While the last goverment was rightly proud of its record of attracting inward investment into Wales, the bulk of that invetsment was concentrated in either the South East or North Eastern corners of the country

There is a sharp and growing divide between the prosperity of those areas and the economic conditions in the rest of Wales.

The Assembly's main tool to attempt to tackle the problem will be the "economic powerhouse" a new agency formed by merging three existing bodies

The Assembly is likely to try and focus the agency's attention on deprived areas and to concentrate on encouraging indigenous enterprise rather than inward-investment.

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