By Paul Kavanagh … read part 1 here
The phone hacking scandal finally caught up with the News of the World and the paper was closed by the Murdochs in a damage limitation exercise. The revelations that journalists had hacked the mobile phones of murder victims and their relatives, as well as celebrities no one really cared about, exploded the scandal onto the front pages of newspapers who’d rather pretend it wasn’t happening.
A string of News of the World editors and journalists were arrested. Dave Cameron’s own press secretary Andy Coulson and his personal friend galactic schmoozer Rebekah Wade were amongst those caught up. The affair raised issues about the unhealthy relationship between the press and politicians, and the feral state of the tabloid newspapers.
Rupert Murdoch’s fall from grace was the most spectacular astronomical event of the year. The star of Murdoch’s fortunes blazed across the sky and sputtered to a halt in a custard pie. The puppet master’s strings were cut and he was revealed before a House of Commons committee to be weak, frail, and clueless about what was going on, rather like the Unionist parties. Politicians who once flocked to him like lambs to the slaughterhouse told Rupert they couldn’t come to his parties any more because they had to stay at home and wash their hair, even William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.
Gordon Brown escaped the men in white coats and put in a rare appearance in the House of Commons to speak about press intrusion, only the second time he’d shown his face in Parliament since losing the last election. Gordon wanted everyone to know that it was everyone’s fault but his. Gord claimed he’d wanted to start a proper investigation into the media, but the Civil Service pit the hems on it. Head of the Civil Service Sir Gus O’Donnell then made an equally rare public statement to tell Gordon he was talking mince.
The scandal smouldered on throughout the year. Even as the year ends there’s still no sign of it drawing to a close. The rank malodorous mess of press regulation in the UK is probably the clearest sign that the Westminster parliament is unfit for purpose.
Dave Cameron went away on his holidays leaving Nick Clegg in charge and within two days the country went to hell in Thatcher’s handbag. Riots broke out across English cities, shops were robbed and burned. Argos was looted and someone got away with 500 catalogues and a very short biro.
For the first few days of the disturbances the BBC described them as “British riots”, even though the rioting was confined to English cities. Alex Salmond pointed out that this was damaging the Scottish tourist industry, as foreign vistors cancelled holidays to Scotland in case they were caught up in a riot in a tea and scone parlour in Kyle of Lochalsh. He was immediately condemned by the Unionist parties and the Scottish press, relieved to find an angle that allowed them to use the riots to accuse the SNP of something. But the BBC did get the message and started referring to riots in English cities.
Despite the acreage of CCTV footage in the press over the next few weeks and months asking the public to identify the rioters, one lot of robbers got clean away with the loot. They just put on suits and called themselves bankers.
Despite widespread copycat rioting, no riots broke out in Scotland, which proves we don’t pay much attention to the BBC news. That at least is an encouraging sign.
The Tory leadership election got under way and quickly descended into a fight to the death not seen since the Morningside Conservatives Ladies’ Association discovered that the winning entry in the annual Victoria sponge baking competition had been bought in Asda. M&S they’d probably have accepted.
Leading contender for the leadership was Murdo Fraser, Auntie Annabel’s deputy. Murdo realised that the Tories were effectively dead already. Inspired by the US Tea Party movement he announced that if he won he’d establish a new populist right wing party with a natural support base amongst sections of the Edinburgh middle class, the You’ll Have Had Your Tea Party.
Jackson Carlaw stood for the unreconstructed Tories who’d really prefer to abolish the Scottish parliament but don’t dare say so in public. He helpfully pointed out that the flaw in Murdo’s plan was that even if they did establish a new party, they’d still be called The Durrtytorybasterts. Jackson longed for a return to the days when Tories could be evil and make no bones about it.
Brand new MSP Ruth Davidson also threw her hat into the ring. Ruth’s main selling point, indeed her only selling point, was the point that we’re all too grown up to mention. The fact that she is openly gay allowed Tories to pretend they were modern yet still be as reactionary as they always were. Ruth’s main policy plank was to go on exactly as before, only with more enthusiasm. A bit like Auntie Annabel, but without the scones or the ability to make you feel guilty for not eating your vegetables, and an unsettling resemblance to the spawn of Wee Jimmy Krankie and Harry Enfield’s Tory Boy.
The party split down the middle on the existential question of to be or not to be. The party’s biggest donor said that if Murdo won he’d not get a penny and that if he lost there could be no place for him or his supporters in the Tories. The campaign got more bitter and personal as emails were leaked and party officials forced to resign. It was brilliant fun for everyone except the Tories. Even the Labour party smiled, except Johann Lamont.
Meanwhile prospective candidates for Labour’s Scottish leadership were as elusive as a Ranger’s fan at a meeting of the Parkhead branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Jim Murphy vanished from view. Media activists hoped he’d been abducted by aliens because he’s certainly never been probed by the Scottish press. Posters were put up on lampposts offering a reward if anyone could find Jim and bring him home, but no one was tempted by the offer of the Collected Speeches of Ed Miliband aged 14 and three quarters.
Magrit Curran announced that Labour’s period of reflection was over. She’d spent hours staring at the mirror, and had decided that she really was the fairest of them all. The dwarfs in the Scottish party clapped happily in agreement. The Murphy review took a deep soul searching trawl through the depths of Labour’s heart and decided Narnia was a better bet after all. They’re willing to be a little bit Scottish, but only if it’s still clear to everyone that Westminster’s in charge.
After the obvious prime suspects ruled out standing with a firm “over my dead body”, three candidates were finally pushed forward for the leadership. Anyone with just a snifter of a career prospect ran a mile from the job since whoever gets the post will also cop the whack for the gubbing Labour’s going to get in 2012’s Scottish local elections. The prospect of being Labour leader in Scotland when the party loses control of Glasgow City Cooncil after four generations will guarantee star billing in the pantheon of hapless Labour losers along with Gordon Brown and Iain Gray.
The favourite from the start was Johann Lamont, previously almost unknown to the Scottish public except on brief occasions when TV cameras caught her deep freezing mince with icy glares. Ms Lamont’s special gift was distancing herself from Iain Gray. It was only during the election campaign that most of us found out she was Iain’s deputy, and that was only because Iain had gone into hiding after a sub-Subway mishap in Asda in Adrossan. You could tell Johann wasn’t best pleased, she demonstrated that the laws of physics were wrong by giving the hapless interviewer a look that was colder than absolute zero.
The second candidate was Tom Harris MP, who was only standing because no one else would. Tom failed to secure the backing of a single Holyrood MSP, and he spent the bulk of his campaign energies issuing soundbites that SNP supporters will be quoting back at him for years to come.
There was also some other guy whose name no one could remember, not even Ed Miliband. It didn’t really bode well for an exciting campaign.
Tom tried to liven things up by claiming that cybernats were the nastiest people on the planet. Cybernats are uniquely evil, they say hurtful things that offend sensitive and delicate souls like politicians who’ve never been known to call their opponents neofascists or anything like that. But not even cybernats could get excited by Tom. Labour’s election campaign and their renewal were just the same old sclerosis we’ve seen from them before.
The Tory election was won by new MSP Ruth Davidson, the Tory party’s very own Action Krankie with a lengthy career in politics lasting all of three months. Ruth Krankie won the election on a platform of doing the same as before only with more shouting and kick boxing. She hopes to build on her appeal, such as it is, by branching out into children’s television in a double act with Paddington Mundell.
The butter knives and pursed lips were soon out for Murdo and his supporters. But after their brief outbreak of face scratching and hair pulling, the Tories will retreat back under the rock where they’ve been hiding for the past 15 years. Labour may be joining them soon.
Lib Dems, afraid that we’ve been ignoring them, as indeed we have, engaged in an escalating series of attention seeking behaviours. Michael Moore, Danny Alexander and Wullie Rennie vied amongst themselves to see who can lose the most of the few remaining Lib Dem voters. Wullie pulled into a lead on the back of a camel. The Lib Dems are displaying the last temper tantrum of a small child who’s already been picked up bodily by their maw and is on the way to the naughty step. The Scottish electorate will ensure that the Lib Dems remain on the naughty step for the foreseeable future and will have to do without their pudding, their ministerial X-Boxes and their ministerial cars.
Since the SNP won and the independence referendum became a certainty, the Unionist scare stories have been issuing thick and fast, but mostly thick. David Cameron did his best to show how we’re all in this together by rubbishing Scottish renewable energy and telling companies they’d be daft to invest in Scotland. A series of made up statistics and stories told to MPs by some guy in the pub were presented as evidence. It took 30 years for the truth about the McCrone report to come to light. But now Unionist misinformation buys them very little time, all the claims were discredited within hours. We’re now at the point where a Unionist politician is discredited the moment they open their gob and say “Scotland Bill”.
Insulting the intelligence of the Scottish electorate in the default position of the Unionist parties. 2011 will go down in Scottish history as the year we discovered that not only is there no positive case for the Union, there’s no negative one either. There’s no case for the Union at all.
Sky News announced that Labour’s Scottish leadership eurovision election had been won by Franco-German rap artist Yo! Hans La Monte with her song Don’t Ask Me About Trident. Yo! Hans only won because she’d got the Warsaw Pact bloc vote sewn up. Like the Action Krankie, Yo! Hans is the keep calm and carry on candidate. Just try harder at failure and all will be well.
George Galloway, who’s not at all bitter that a Tory Action Krankie got more votes than him in the election for the Glasgow list seat in May, despaired about the likely victory of Johann Lamont. George likened Johann to Rosa Klebb, but that was unfair and uncalled for. Rosa Klebb smiled in at least one scene in To Russia With Love.
Labour refuses to reveal the exact voting figures for the leadership election. This led to widespread speculation that Labour membership has plummeted. Unofficial sources say that apart from elected representatives and their relatives, active membership of the party now consists of six journalists, three retired union officials and a cemetery in Glenrothes.
It was a long time coming, but finally the positive case for the union arrived in the shape of Yun-yin and Brit-Brit the UK pandas which just happen to be lodging at Embra Zoo. Pandas are the perfect symbol for the Union. The Union and pandas are both threatened with extinction. The panda is a solitary animal. After being forced to spend time together pandas almost never produce adorable progeny, usually they end up bitter, resentful and full of angry seething contempt and loathing at the other’s presence, rather like Scotland and Westminster.
It’s now become clear that Unionist politicians intend to save the UK by inviting us to notice how cute it is staring at us with those big sad eyes. Traipsing all the way to China for a panda take-away was an act of desperation. Jim Murphy’s been practising long sad faces for years but still can’t manage to appear any more cuddly than a toilet brush. And while David Mundell might seem to have the Paddington Bear impression all sewn up, the only people who find him appealing is that tiny segment of the population who buy top shelf magazines in specialist plush toy shops for grown-ups.
There was a pandemic of panda puns. Even the Daily Mail got enthused about two immigrants coming over here and getting free accommodation with a private pool at public expense, which must be something of a first. These immigrants will be fed on bamboo grass flown in every week from a specialist grower in Amsterdam. If the Unionist parties could promise weekly deliveries of top quality hydroponically grown Amsterdam grass to the rest of us they’d solve the unemployment problem as Tunnocks would be recruiting for staff to cope with the massive demand for caramel logs and teacakes. People would still find the Krankies funny and Ruth Davidson could even land that children’s TV series. And we’d be so stoned that we might just find their scare stories believable. Drug induced paranoia is the only hope they have.
Meanwhile an opinion poll out in December showed that two thirds of Scots would vote yes for independence if it meant that they’d be just over nine quid a week better off, about the cost of a Chinese take away. The currency of the Union has devalued over the past 300 years. Once it needed to be be bought and sold for English gold, now it can be bought and sold for the price of a chicken curry and chips carry oot with a side order of bamboo shoots for the panda. By this time next year it won’t be worth a stale prawn cracker.
Independence supporters got a Christmas present when news came out that David Cameron intends to head the no campaign in the independence referendum. Dave understands the needs and aspirations of ordinary working families. He knows that anyone can succeed in life if they work hard at school, keep out of trouble, get a steady job, then inherit 50 million quid from their dad. Now he faces the task of explaining to the Scots why an Eton educated Conservative who knows nothing about us should be alllowed to get his hands on Scotland’s inheritance too.
There’s going to be a lot of lampposts for the dug to pee on in the year ahead.