Voting For A New Britain: New offspring for the mother of parliaments

Shaping The Future
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TODAY'S ELECTIONS will alter permanently the democratic make-up of Britain. Ninety per cent of the electorate has a vote to decide the futures of Scotland and Wales and who controls local councils. Only London has no elections.

By tomorrow morning Scotland will have 129 members of its first parliament for 293 years and may, if the nationalists have prospered, have taken a big step towards independence. Wales will have a 60-member Assembly, lacking the full legislative powers of the Scottish Parliament but more powerful than the "glorified council" it has been likened to. Some 13,000 council seats on 362 local authorities have also to be filled - 308 in England, 32 in Scotland and 22 in Wales.

Not only will voters in Scotland and Wales be restoring symbols of nationhood, they will also be making electoral history by using a system of proportional representation for the first time on the British mainland. It is intended to give a fairer reflection of each party's standing than the traditional winner-take-all Westminster method.

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh will have 73 members representing individual constituencies elected under the first-past-the-post-system and 56 members from party lists in Scotland's eight regions in a second ballot. A third ballot paper will be for council elections.

The Welsh Assembly in Cardiff will have 40 members elected in each of the principality's Westminster seats by first-past-the-post, and 20 from the five regions under the top-up process. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) will get a basic salary of pounds 40,000 a year plus allowances, some pounds 5,000 less than Westminster MPs but more than the pounds 34,500 for Welsh Assembly members.

Both bodies will start life in temporary debating chambers, the Scots in the Church of Scotland's Assembly Hall and the Welsh in Crickhowell House, Cardiff. Work is under way on a pounds 50m parliament building adjacent to the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh, and a pounds 10m assembly building is due to be built in the Cardiff Bay area.

The first meetings will be held on 12 May when members will be sworn in and elect a Presiding Officer (equivalent to the Commons Speaker).