Politics: Welsh poll in the balance after low turnout

The picture of a nation divided emerged in Wales early today when, after 11 results out of 22, voters had made clear to Tony Blair's Government the scale of opposition to plans for a Welsh assembly, while `No' campaigners were buoyed up by success in early results. Tony Heath reports.
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The Independent Online
In Cardiff, one of the largest areas to vote, the Government's plans for devolution were rejected by 47,527 votes to 59,589. In Monmouthshire, The proposals were rejected by 22,000 votes to 10,592, a margin of more than two to one.

In Blaenau-Gwent, represented in the Commons by Llew Smith, the rebel Labour MP, the "Yes" voters outnumbered the "Nos" by 15,237 to 11,928 on a turnout of just under 50 per cent.

Merthyr Tydfil followed suit, with a 12,707 to 9,121 pro- assembly vote. The seat is held by Ted Rowlands, a devo-sceptic Labour veteran.

Torfaen, another South Wales seat, represented in Parliament by Northern Ireland Minister Paul Murphy, was a cliff-hanger, with the "No" vote of 15,854 fewer than 100 ahead of the "Yes" vote of 15,756.

In a single question referendum, voters were asked to vote either "Yes" or "No" to government plans for a body which would control the current pounds 7bn Welsh Office budget, but would have no tax-raising or law-making powers.

The first result came a few minutes after midnight, when voters in Wrexham rejected the prospect of an assembly by 22,449 to 18,574 on a 42.5 per cent turnout.Flintshire, next door to Wrexham, also rejected the proposal, by 28,707 to 17,746 - a margin of almost two to one.

Denbighshire, an area heavily dependent on agriculture, followed suit with a 20,732 to 14,271 "No" vote, on a 49.9 per cent turnout. And the scale of opposition to the Government's plans was made clear when Newport, Gwent, one of the largest of the 22 polling areas, rejected the proposition by 27,017 to 16,172 with 46 per cent of voters saying "yes".

But it was not all bad news for the Government. Within minutes, the result for Neath-Port Talbot was declared, with a "Yes" vote on a 54 per cent turnout in a traditional Labour stronghold.

The Isle of Anglesey swiftly followed suit, voting "Yes" on a 57 per cent turnout, giving some comfort to the pro-devolutionists. But the vote was surprisingly narrow given that voters had returned a Plaid Cymru MP on 1 May.

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