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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 08:55 GMT
Why hearts should warm to Senedd
Vaughan Roderick
Vaughan Roderick
BBC Welsh affairs editor

Senedd
The Senedd building on the Cardiff Bay waterfront has cost 67m
It is a fair bet that in a few decades few people will remember the furore that surrounded the creation of the new Welsh assembly building, or Senedd.

It is likely to be an accepted and, judging by early reactions, much-loved feature of the Cardiff Bay landscape.

After all, who today remembers those Sydneysiders who protested against the ever-ballooning cost of the building they nicknamed "the drowning nun"?

That iconic symbol is rather better known today as the Sydney Opera House.

Few of today's Cardiffians would agree with their Edwardian forebears who were aghast at the money being poured into the "monumental white elephant" of City Hall.

It does not follow, of course, that a popular building will do anything for the popularity of the institution it houses.

Sydney Opera House
Few today remember protests about the Sydney Opera House

The current evidence suggests that the assembly is, by now, an accepted part of Welsh life. The few opinion polls conducted on the subject suggest that fewer than a quarter of Welsh voters would like to be rid of it.

The "Abolish the Assembly Party" established in 2001 attracted so little support that after a few months it decided to abolish itself.

With the question of abolition apparently a dead duck, the real battles in coming years are set to be between those who are happy with the current settlement and those who want to see ever-stronger powers transferred to Cardiff Bay.

In the end, the assembly and its government will be judged not by its building but by the quality of the services delivered
Unsurprisingly, the strongest supporters of the status quo are to be found in Westminster, while the biggest fans of increased powers are Assembly Members.

The greatest threat to the assembly's legitimacy comes from the falling turnout in assembly elections. Some 47% of Welsh voters went to the polls in the first assembly election in 1999, and only 38% did so four years later.

While some have suggested that the falling turnout suggests that the assembly has failed to win the hearts and minds of the Welsh people, it is more likely to be part of a more general trend.

Cardiff City Hall
Cardiff City Hall: a white elephant to some in Edwardian days

Barely 40% of us cast our votes in the 2004 European and council elections and turnout hit an all-time low of 62% in the 2005 general election.

There is no doubt that if turnout were to drop substantially in the 2007 elections it would be a severe blow to the assembly's credibility and might well put a brake on its ambitions.

For now though, those thoughts are far from the politicians' minds as they enjoy the new sense of permanence and importance that the new building has given the institution.

In the end, though, the assembly and its government will be judged not by its building but by the quality of the services delivered in schools and hospitals and the rest across Wales.


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