Devolved Welsh politics has come a long way since its establishment at the end of the last millennium.

The National Assembly for Wales has grown into the Welsh Parliament. In doing so, it has developed legislative powers across a broad range of policy areas including health, education and transport.

Elections have struggled with voter turnout, but the pandemic over the last year has illustrated the role it plays in everyday life in communities across Wales.

From the narrow ‘Yes’ vote in 1997, to coalition building, minority governments, and breakthrough parties, Welsh devolved elections have had their fair share of drama.

On the day the 2021 election campaign period officially begins, here is your guide to the history of Senedd elections to date.

1997: Wales votes ‘Yes’, just

Wales has been on its devolution journey since 1997.The 1997 referendum was the beginning of Wales' devolution journey

When nearly 80 per cent of Welsh voters said ‘No’ to a Welsh Assembly in a referendum in 1979, devolution was buried in Wales for a generation.

Fast forward nearly two decades and devolution and a Welsh Assembly was back on the ballot paper as Wales headed to the polls once again.

Yes for Wales was supported by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, with politicians like Rhodri Morgan, Kirsty Williams and Dafydd Wigley heavily involved.

Just Say NO, was led by the Conservative’s Chief Spokesman in Wales, Nick Bourne, but suffered from the fact the Welsh Tory MPs had just been wiped off Wales' electoral map in the 1997 General Election.


Still, the final poll was close. Very close. On the night of September 18, 1997, ‘Yes’ won by 6,721 votes with 50.3 percent of the vote.

The vote varied significantly across Wales. Rural areas in the south like Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan coupled up with Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham carried the ‘No’ vote.

However, many of the valleys constituencies, Ceredigion, Carmarthen and Gwynedd just carried ‘Yes’ over the line.

Wales would get its Assembly but it would not have legislative powers. It was to be an Assembly by name and an assembly by nature.

1999: A new dawn and a Lib-Lab coalition

Wales has been on its devolution journey since 1997.The 1999 election saw the Tories left in the starting blocks

The First National Assembly for Wales election delivered an endorsement of the parties that had supported its establishment.

Traditional Labour seats in the valleys and the north east delivered the party 28 seats in total, stopping short of the 31 needed for a majority.

It was a good night for Plaid Cymru who won Rhondda and Islwyn in the valleys, took the battleground seat of Llanelli and delivered seats all the way up the Welsh coast from Ceredigion to Ynys Môn. Eight regional seats delivered a strong 17-seat showing for the 'party of Wales'.

The Additional Member System of voting also served the Liberal Democrats well, winning Brecon and Radnorshire, Cardiff Central and Montgomeryshire, while picking up three regional seats.


The Tories were left out in the cold, shunned in all constituency seats except Monmouth, the party picked up nine seats in total, relegated to third place.

Labour leader Alun Michael formed a Labour minority government following the election, before he resigned to be replaced as First Secretary by Rhodri Morgan.

Morgan went on to form the ‘Coalition Partnership’ with the Liberal Democrats in October 2000, a partnership that lasted until the 2003 election.

2003: Labour landslide, gender balance and John Marek

Wales has been on its devolution journey since 1997.Labour won half of all Senedd seats on two occasions

The relatively high turnout of 46 per cent in the 1999 election dropped significantly in 2003 to 38.2 per cent.

The drop-off hit Plaid hard, with Labour gaining Islwyn, Rhondda, Llanelli and Conwy. Plaid also lost a regional seat.

The Liberal Democrats stood firm on six seats, while the Conservatives picked up an additional two regional seats.


The election also saw the Senedd’s first independent member, as John Marek, a former Labour AM and MP for Wrexham, stood as an independent in the seat after he was deslected. Marek won and went on to form the Forward Wales party.

The gains Labour made, their joint highest showing ever, allowed them to form Rhodri Morgan’s second government, this time a Labour minority.

The election was important for a second reason that crossed political party lines. Of the 60 members elected, 30 were male and 30 were female.

2007: ‘One Wales’ at the end of the rainbow

Wales has been on its devolution journey since 1997.A coalition government of some sort was the only path to functioning government in 2007

Four years of a Labour minority government naturally saw them lose seats in 2007 following the redrawing of several constituencies.

Plaid picked up the new seat of Aberconwy, and regained Llanelli. The Tories made significant gains in constituencies for the first time, winning Cardiff North, both Pembrokeshire seats and Clwyd West.

Labour did regain Wrexham from John Marek, however they lost Blaenau Gwent to independent, Trish Law.

Law had won the constituency in a by-election in 2006, following her husband Peter’s death, who had resigned from the Labour Party due to an all-women candidate list in the constituency.

Law followed up her by-election win with another in 2007 and Labour were now short of a majority.

Talks of a ‘Rainbow Coalition’ between Plaid, the Tories and the Lib Dems seemed serious, but eventually broke down.

Labour and Plaid Cymru formed the ‘One Wales’ agreement and served in coalition government right through to 2011, first under Rhodri Morgan and then his replacement as Labour leader, Carwyn Jones.

2011: Wales votes ‘Yes’, again

Wales has been on its devolution journey since 1997.Despite low turnout, there was nothing close about the result of the 2011 referendum

Fourteen years on from the ‘Yes’ vote of 1997, Wales went to the ballot box again in 2011, this time asking whether the Welsh electorate wanted the Assembly to have more powers.

The answer was another ‘yes’. This time it was resounding, with 63.5 per cent of the electorate in favour. However, turnout was a low 34.6 per cent.

Of Wales’ 22 local authority areas, only Monmouthshire voted ‘no’.

The result was welcomed by First Minister Carwyn Jones, who said: “Today an old nation came of age.”

2011: Minority rule

Wales has been on its devolution journey since 1997.Labour hit the 30 seats mark again in 2011, meaning they could 'go it alone'

After four years in coalition government together, Labour and Plaid Cymru had contrasting results in 2011.

Labour was riding high on 30 seats, adding Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff Central and Cardiff North to their gains and heading towards forming a minority government.

For Plaid, the loss of Llanelli to Labour was indicative of the seat’s perpetual swing between the two, but the loss of Aberconwy to the Conservatives was a bitter pill to swallow. Additional losses in regional seats compounded the misery.

For the Tories, 2011 was a watershed moment. Taking Aberconwy from Plaid and Montgomeryshire from the Liberal Democrats showed they were finally an electoral force in Assembly politics, able to compete for seats across Wales.

The Tories were now the largest opposition party in the Senedd, however their leader Nick Bourne lost his regional seat.

Labour formed their minority government, both the Tories and Plaid were on the hunt for new leaders.

2016: The rise of UKIP and a Lib Dem collapse

Wales has been on its devolution journey since 1997.UKIP made serious gains in 2016 thanks, in part, to Wales' voting system

The Assembly election in 2016 came a little under two months before the UK’s Brexit referendum. Labour, Plaid and the Lib Dems all opposed the UK and Wales leaving the European Union.

The Tories’ new leader Andrew RT Davies was in favour, positioning himself in opposition to the party’s UK leader, David Cameron, and his Scottish counterpart, Ruth Davidson.

But, there was also a new kid on the block.

The Assembly’s voting system had long threatened a breakthrough for a smaller party. Any party that could muster significant votes across Wales without winning a constituency seat would be rewarded with regional gains. However, no party had managed it to date.

Then UKIP came along.

Riding high on the wave of the ongoing Brexit referendum campaign, the UK Independence Party found itself at home in all five of Wales’ regions, winning seven seats overall.

Their success had serious ramifications for the Tories. The Conservative high of 14 seats in 2011 was reduced to 11.

It was the Liberal Democrats, however, who were hit the hardest. The party had been a constant voice in the Senedd since its establishment. It had occupied government and provided a liberal voice in both Wales’ rural areas and in the centre of its capital city.

Now it was reduced to just a single seat, Brecon and Radnorshire.


Plaid did pick up one seat as leader Leanne Wood proved valleys seats could still be won, but they quickly lost a member as Dafydd Elis-Thomas crossed the Senedd to support a Labour government.

With the support of Elis-Thomas and Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, Labour was able to retain its grip on power. The party has now served in government in the Senedd for nearly 22 years.

In May 2020, The National Assembly for Wales became Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament, reflecting its extensive law making powers.

The fourth Senedd term was a tumultuous one. However, beyond politics, it will perhaps be remembered as the term with the heaviest losses with the passing of Steffan Lewis, Carl Sargeant and Mohammad Asghar.

What next for the Senedd? You can keep up to date with our Senedd election coverage and support us by becoming a subscriber