THE PEOPLE of Scotland and Wales shrugged off the apathy of their English counterparts yesterday as they voted on Britain's historic "super Thursday" to select a new Parliament in Edinburgh and Assembly in Cardiff.
In England - where there were local government elections in most parts of the country outside London - there appeared to be a reluctance to pass judgement on Tony Blair's government. Party officials reported the turnout as "low," with perhaps only three in 10 bothering to vote.
The elections were Tony Blair's biggest electoral test since coming to power in 1997. But it was William Hague who was anxiously awaiting the first results late last night, knowing that a poor performance could lead to him being ousted as Tory leader this summer.
The first Scottish Parliament for almost 300 years, and the first Welsh Assembly for 600 years, were elected by a form of proportional representation - the first time PR has been used in a British election.
In Scotland, voting started slowly amid heavy rain, but it picked up later and it was hoped the turnout would reach 60 per cent. Other parties were confident of denying the Scottish National Party's hopes of making a decisive breakthrough which would put Scotland firmly on course for independence. The Tories said they were picking up a significant number of "second votes" from people who opposed the SNP.
In Scotland and Wales, people had two votes - one for a constituency member of the Parliament or Assembly, and the other for a party on a regional basis. There was confusion over the system in Wales, where returning officers in some constituencies were inundated with inquiries by puzzled voters. Alun Michael, the Welsh Secretary, admitted the system would have to be re-examined.
The Welsh votes will be counted today, when Mr Michael will learn whether he has won a seat in the Assembly.
Despite a rather lacklustre campaign in Wales, there were hopes that the turnout would pass the 50 per cent mark needed for the Assembly to have credibility.
Britain votes, pages 12 and 13
Leading article, Review, page 3
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