Politics: Wales goes to the wire in the final push for D-Day

Voting got off to a slow start yesterday as the day of reckoning dawned in Wales. But with campaigners on both sides aware that nothing less than the political future of their country was at stake, there was everything left to play for. Tony Heath toured the polling stations.
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Campaigners fighting over the 30 per cent of undecided voters in Wales's devolution referendum pledged to fight right up to the wire last night.

With polls giving supporters of the Government's plans for a 60-member elected assembly a slim lead, the result seemed to hang on just how many of the 2,218,850 voters stayed at home. Both camps conceded that a turn- out of less than 50 per cent would damage the credibility of the winner.

The Secretary of State for Wales, Ronald Davies, and his wife, Christina, voted early at a caravan polling station in the car park of the Hollybush Inn at Drathen in his Caerphilly constituency. "This is D-Day, Devolution Day for the people of Wales," he said.

A light aircraft trailing a "Vote Yes - Support Blair" banner criss-crossed South Wales for much of the day. It had been chartered by an anonymous South Wales businessman stirred by what he said were misleading claims in a television broadcast by anti-devolutionists.

The "Just Say No" campaign funded by millionaire Sir Julian Hodge from his tax haven in the Channel Isles detected a shift in its favour. Carys Pugh, veteran Labour Party activist and outspoken opponent of devolution remained confident: "We're having a last blast, leafletting in the streets of Cardiff and many other towns," she said.

At one of the more remote polling stations, a former monastery at Capel- y-Ffin in the mountains, half the 22 electors on the register had voted by late afternoon. Stanley Knill and his wife, Carol, bought the imposing white building 12 months ago. "The job of returning officer comes with the house," Mr Knill explained.

In the Twenties, Eric Gill lived in the house and designed the famous Gill Sans Serif type face employed by the new-look Independent.

When Wales rejected devolution by four to one in 1979, rural districts bordering England showed least enthusiasm, while bastions of the Welsh language and culture in the north west took the opposite stance. A similar trend emerging in the current campaign suggested that Powys and Monmouth- shire were among areas likely to deliver a thumbs down.