Cheerio 2012 – A year of agreements, blunders, apologies and resignations

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
2012 was a year like no other, the Edinburgh Agreement saw to that.
 
Lying in wait is the last full year before Scotland moves towards the biggest decision the nation will have made in three centuries.

But 2013 can wait, what of the year just past, what were the key moments of 2012?

The Edinburgh Agreement was the moment.  An historic agreement that ended any argument over the legitimacy of the forthcoming independence referendum.

The agreement recognised the democratic right of the Scottish people to determine their own future.

The meeting in Edinburgh between Salmond and Cameron was sandwiched between the usual politicking that has marked Scottish politics since the SNP’s majority win in 2011.

The Scottish Lib Dems set up yet another commission which ended up with the party repeating the blunder of 2007 when Tavish Scott spurned the opportunity to share power with the SNP. 

Incredibly, faced with the prospect of implementing the recommendations of the Steel Commission which had looked into Devolution in 2006 and achieving their century long aim of Federalism, the party refused to embrace devo-max.  The Menzies Campbell headed reincarnation of Steel’s Commission took the opportunity to ditched many of Steel’s recommendations.

The Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has had a poor year, pockmarked by blunders and U-turns.  The line in the sand over more powers for Scotland disappeared when her boss David Cameron promptly kicked the sand in her face by suggesting more powers beyond the Scotland Bill was a distinct possibility.

Davidson’s description of the proposed referendum question as fair and decisive went the same way as her Unionist counterparts attacked it as biased.

However the attempt to hi-jack the referendum process by Unionists was booted into touch by the Electoral Commission who reminded their cobbled together group that only the Scottish government could submit questions for consideration.

In keeping with tradition, the Scottish media told us that 2012 has been a bad year for the SNP and Alex Salmond and that his Labour counterpart Johann Lamont had performed well.

One of Ms Lamont’s early successes was the Scottish Labour performance at the local council elections.  Glasgow did not succumb to the SNP who, despite gains, failed to prevent Labour from becoming the largest party again.

Nationally though the SNP triumphed with more councillors than Labour, more share of the national vote and more gains.  The media though homed in on the Glasgow result and Lamont basked in the ‘victory’.

The local elections were followed by pacts between Unionist parties that saw the SNP effectively lose out on seats in COSLA, the local authority umbrella body.  Watch out for attacks by COSLA on the Scottish government in 2013.

Lamont’s year has also been marked by boorish behaviour at Holyrood that saw the Scottish Labour leader reprimanded after several episodes of appalling language which threatened to bring the chamber into disrepute.

One particularly unsavoury incident saw one of her back benchers ape his leader’s own example which saw him barred from the chamber for insulting the Presiding Officer.  Michael McMahon was suspended from the chamber for a day after he shouted “You’re a disgrace” at the Presiding Officer.

On policy, Lamont has presided over a Scottish Labour U-turn on nuclear weapons, council tax freeze and tuition fees – calling free education “anti-Scottish”.

The SNP, despite the Edinburgh Agreement and the local election triumph, has experienced difficulties.  The NATO debate was narrowly won by the party leadership in their own U-turn moment, but not without collateral damage when two sitting MSPs resigned from the party to sit as independents.

There have also been uncomfortable moments over EU membership of an independent Scotland and whether advice was sought or not.  Alex Salmond’s interview by Andrew Neil was released by the BBC as ‘proof’ that Mr Salmond had been less than forthright in his replies over whether the Scottish government had sought legal advice on the issue of EU membership.

If they didn’t know then, the SNP know now, that allowing interruptions from BBC interviewers is fraught with danger.

Michael Russell’s very public spat with a college head added to unwelcome headlines.

However the year will probably be remembered for the apology Alex Salmond had to give to the chamber after reading out the wrong figures on college funding.  Normally sure footed, Salmond handed his opponents an open goal when he gave the wrong funding figure for year 2010-11.

The SNP leader’s popularity though remains strong with 43% of Scots believing he is still the best leader to stand up for Scotland, way ahead of his rivals including Lamont who can manage only a few percentage points between them.

Membership of the SNP also continues to soar with new figures released revealing a membership total of almost 25,000 people, a rise of nearly 23% on the 2011 figure.

Away from Holyrood, the most entertaining moments were provided by Labour MP Ian Davidson.  A gift to the independence movement, Davidson entered 2012 on the back of claims he had threatened a female nationalist MP with a doing if she spoke to the media.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford promptly left the Scottish Affairs Select Committee chaired by Davidson.  Davidson was already notorious after calling the SNP “fascists” whilst addressing the House of Commons.

However the Glasgow Labour MP caused further outrage this summer when he appeared on a Newsnight Scotland programme and attacked female presenter Isabel Fraser, accusing her of being biased against Unionist parties.

The implosion resulted in the National Union of Journalists expressing concern over what they termed “the increase in intimidation and bullying of journalists”.

Closely behind Davidson was fellow Labour MP Tom Harris who, in January, was forced to walk away from his new role as Labour’s media advisor after posting a video on youtube that compared Alex Salmond to Hitler.

Away from the parties it wasn’t a good year for the media, with Scottish newspaper circulation figures in freefall.  The Herald group decided they no longer wished to be considered national papers, and opted for a regional category – the move ensures that the Herald and Sunday Herald circulation figures will be reported only once every six months instead of once a month.

The BBC in Scotland continues to cause concern with its handling of political news.  The Savile scandal left a dent in trust UK wide, but there are growing concerns regarding the corporation’s commitment to quality coverage of the referendum debate – job losses are already leading to fears over a loss of quality.

Newsnet Scotland has enjoyed a year of growth with October seeing total unique visitors to the site crash through the 90,000 barrier.  An interview on BBC Scotland ended a very good year and witnessed team member Lynda Williamson answer questions from BBC Scotland’s Derek Bateman.

Happy New Year everyone