As we awaited the bells that ushered in 2015 we could see someone in the misty distance who bore an uncanny resemblance to Alistair Darling. He was dressed as if he was participating in a Dickensian novel and was following another person clothed in a white sheet.
We couldn’t quite make out the scene, then suddenly we realised it was the ghost of #indyref past come to torment Alistair for telling porky pies, earning £234,900 a year and not believing in the people of Scotland.
The skies cleared to view the full scene near a borders farm. Let us call it ‘Manor Farm’ (the one in Orwell’s book, not the one near Peebles):
Alistair watches from the side. Some residents have assemble at the gate of a field. They are watching a wise old pig called ‘the major’ wandering about a barn with a pink beret on his head. He is talking of a dream he had lost. A dream that would have brought a world where all folks lived free from the tyranny of their masters.
The old major cries out:
‘ Aye its was thi aild folk thit let the yinglins doon. Aye yi let doon thems thit aint got a spot o cole to lict a fire, thems thit cannae break bread ti feed thir wains, an’ aw thems folk thit wanted bairns afore bombs. Big fearties yi wir – but mind mi wirds – this is no thae end o it – we wil be at this til justice is done, af-an-oan. til justice is done .’
The major’s cries rang in the bells. The bells rang in the new year. The new year was quick to test us with gale force storms that would bring down power lines, flood homes, shut bridges and destroy roads across Scotland. New year storms that were a portent of the year as a whole.
The cruel winds of January brought a year of continued accusations that celebrities, the Royal Family, Tory MPs and other parliamentarian’s had been involved in child abuse – the whole year would reveal a picture of mismanaged cases, lost evidence, dropped opportunities for prosecution, etc.
The year would see the conviction of several celebrities (pop singers, TV presenters, digeridoo players, weathermen etc.), the death of two Lords whilst under heavy cloud of accusations and the beginning of proceedings to extradite a priest from Australia.
The ill winds of January brought hang overs for all. We woke up to the reality that 2015 still found us shackled to the union. 75% of us felt it inadequate and 45% new it was time to leave but somehow, the union had survived 2014. Hard to think that 55% of us wanted to give those shower o brigands at Westminster that one wee last chance.
Hard to countenance that 55% of voters would subject themselves again, one last time, to a marriage counselling process that involved our overbearing partner continuously arguing that we were: too wee, too poor and too stupit to take care of their own affairs. Hard to understand that 55% of the people chose to stay with a partner that had been unable to provide any positive reasons for continuing the union and had shown themselves incapable of making good on their past promises.
Indeed, in addition to being bed fellows with the likes o’ Alistair Darling, the 55% were now coming to terms with the fact they had also allied themselves to the likes of George Osborne, David Cameron, and Alistair Carmichael (porky-pie-tellers-in-chief). The regretful amongst the 55 were caught saying things to themselves like, ‘a didnae ken a hud voted fir mair misery, fir ma housing support tae be cut and ma family credit tae go doon the pan’.
By February, those who had ignored the initial implications of a no vote were now finally coming to the conclusion that Westminster was an English MP dominated institution. In an echo of ‘Animal Farm’, the people of Scotland were forced to understand that all MPs are equal but some are more equal than others.
The Tories had informed them that English votes for English laws would be pushed through come-what-may, that Scots voters had been lied to about receiving federalisation and that the vow would merely become an invitation for Scots voters to pay more taxes for the same level of spending (Pay more get nowt).
Voter awakening would eventually, during the year, lead to a major electoral realignment in Scottish politics.
Elsewhere, February brought a film clip of Chelsea supporters preventing a young Frenchman from boarding the metro in Paris, – more like ‘right-wing, racist Charlies’ than – ‘We Are Charlie’. Further right-wing Charlies also emerged after two members of the house were filmed discussing cash-for-access with undercover journalists.
Later, these charlatans were cleared by a commons committee (that was criticised for its decision). The over-riding impression given to the public was that these hail-fellows-easy-met had aimed their snouts deep at the trough.
March brought us a partial solar eclipse and a full political eclipse in Scotland as membership of the SNP passed 100,000 and Scottish Labour became the past.
The eclipses continued when another right wing Charlie got his come-uppance. The bully, friend of David Cameron and ‘presenter’, previously known as Jeremy Clarkson, assaulted a producer and was removed from the darkest nether region of the BBC, once called light entertainment.
David Cameron, piqued with jealousy at Jeremy’s new found freedom, suddenly realised that in the long run he wanted to spend more time with his family and told voters that if he won in May 2015 he couldn’t contemplate competing the 2020 election.
Cameron also brought dishonour to his position and encountered accusations that he was feart after he refused, in the run up to the May Westminster election, to agree to take part in a full series of leader’s debates. Subsequently this would leave the way open for Nicola Sturgeon to become the star of the show.
Cameron’s cowardice seemed to some up the year. It has been a year of remorse, dishonour and cowardice for many members of the British establishment – none more so than the police officers that caused the Hillsborough disaster.
‘Justice for the 96’ – ultimately arrived in March 2015. After 26 years of lies, tampered evidence and cover-ups, David Duckenfield finally admitted that his failure to shut a tunnel was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough on the 15th of April 1989.
My initial reaction was unfortunately not surprise:
In the case of Hillsborough, it took 25 years for the most senior officer in charge to admit he lied on the day. The inhumanity of this act, the corruption of documentary evidence of eye witness and the subsequent Thatcher government cover up is also echoed in the cover up of historical child abuse scandals most notable involving, yet again, South Yorkshire Police.
The 1990 Taylor Report ruled that police procedures had been flawed but never revealed the full extent of the cover up. It also failed to establish accurate times of death and, as a result, ignored the possibility that more lives could have been saved. For example, if greater numbers of emergency services had gained quicker access to the pitch.
When I worked in Liverpool, I visited Anfield’s Hillsborough memorial. I went to pay my respect to the supporters who had set out to watch a football match and never returned home. They simply went to watch a football match, an event that should have been full of excitement, hope and joy.
They went to watch their team play the beautiful game but instead they encountered incompetent event management that had caused problems twice before at the ground. This time the incompetence would be fatal.
Police incompetence took the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters, then the authorities and the media colluded to take away the dignity of ‘the 96’ by blaming these supporters for their own deaths.
‘The 96’ were real people with names and ages. People with real names, whose ages would remain forever stilled, in an unfair and unreal way, by the sorry events of that day. As years passed, the 96 were not forgotten. Their families and friends constantly campaigned for justice. Their loved ones were supported in their search for justice by local politicians, all the people of Liverpool (Evertonians had also lost kith and kin at Hillsborough) and many in the wider football world.
I still remember the electric atmosphere of a close autumn evening in 1997 when both Celtic and Liverpool fans sung ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at a UEFA Cup match at Celtic park. The hairs rose on the back of my neck as I looked over, up and round at all the fans standing united in song in a post-Hillsborough (all-seater) stadium.
When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm There’s a golden sky And the sweet, silver song of a lark.
Walk on, through the wind, Walk on, through the rain, Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, And you’ll never walk alone, You’ll never walk alone
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, And you’ll never walk alone, You’ll never walk alone
The words, ‘walk on, walk on – with hope in your heart’, echoed around Parkhead until the emotion combined in the air, over the stadium, into one voice. And then, you knew why they called the place ‘Paradise’.
We were united in our grief, spirit and expectation. Grief: at the injustice that people just like us, standing in Sheffield waiting to watch a football match, should lose their lives. Spirit: drawn from the joint-certainty, the collective belief, that they should never be forgotten. Expectation: that the journey to justice would, one day, be realized.
We were united in our belief that the truth should will out for those that had been crushed, those that had been injured and those that had fallen, never to rise again.
The whistle blew, and the game exploded into action as if the players had felt what we had felt. They recognized their duty to give all their breath, energy, movement, flair and passion to the moment because those were the very things that had been so cruelly stolen from the overcome bodies of the fallen at Hillsborough.
In 1997, we thought a new Labour government might bring justice and reveal the truth that the Tories had covered up – this was not to be the last Labour let down.
In October 1997 a partial inquiry was carried out but only of ‘new’ evidence that had arisen since the 1990 Taylor Report. This meant that altered statements that were originally submitted as evidence went unexamined. The inquiry in 1998 wrongly concluded that there was not any justification for setting up any further inquiry.
The disappointment of the 1997 review had been felt hard in Liverpool. I was also at Celtic park for the 2003 UEFA match where the Celtic and Liverpool supporters again came together to sing their support for those who lost their lives at Hillsborough. I was better prepared for the emotion of that night but you still knew in your heart that the truth of what had taken place at Hillsborough had yet to be revealed.
In 1997 the players treated us to a beautiful roller-coaster of a match that ended appropriately with honours even, two goals a-piece. In 2003 the game ended in another well-played decently contested score-draw.
Contrast the players honest endeavours with the dishonour of David Duckenfield and the officers who re-wrote statements about the day and who for 26 years, until 2015, callously sought to prevent the friends and families of the Hillsborough fallen from learning the truth about their loved ones deaths.
The 1989 Hillsborough cover up taught us to question the relationship between the main stream media, Whitehall public servants and Westminster politicians.
The 2014 #indyref renewed our cynicism concerning this maleficent relationship. The Yes campaign promoted a new kind of politics which suggested public servants and politicians should work for the people and not in their own interests. Unfortunately, the old style of politics, a culture of lies, deceit and dishonesty, prevailed.
Many voters held their noses and voted No in 2014. The Yes campaigned had lots of limitations such as our lack of clarity on pensions, the need for our own independent pound and the practicalities of the change process, etc.. However, in 2015, the thing that stuck in voter’s memories was not the limitations of the Yes campaign. The thing that stuck in people’s minds was the dirty tricks of ‘project fear’ (the name given by the No camp to their negative campaign strategy).
In the last scene of animal farm the animals watching suddenly realise that they can’t tell the difference between Napoleon (pig) and Pinkerton (human). In 2015, the people of Scotland could no longer tell the difference between the Westminster partiers. Labour, Liberals and Tories had all been seen draped in the same unionist flag and they were all viewed as colluding in the same falsehoods.
Yet, even when armed with this knowledge, few of us were prepared for the lies and dirty tricks that the Unionistas would play at the 2015 Westminster elections.
On 4 April 2015, a leaked memo from the Scotland Office alleged that Nicola Sturgeon privately told the French ambassador Sylvie Agnès Bermann that she would “rather see David Cameron remain as PM”. Sturgeon, categorically denied this, stating she had fought the Tories all her political career.
Alistair Carmichael subsequently lied about his role at the centre of the leak. Carmichael somehow managed to get elected and hangs onto his seat to this day despite two judges deciding in November that he had lost the trust of his electorate because he told porky pies.
Carmichael admitted in court that he was a liar. Both judges agreed with his admission that he lied. However, they concluded that there was no truth in the rumour that he had planed his little jape during a game of late night cards at ‘Manor Farm’, that involved him spending all evening drinking with a pig called Napoleon, and concluded with him continually shouting, ‘sell the farm, sell the farm, sell the farm….’.
Judges ruled that Carmichael had ‘made the false statement of fact for the purpose of affecting (positively) his own return at the election’ and that he had acted as ‘at best disingenuous, at worst evasive and self-serving’ when responding to the Cabinet Office inquiry. But, they decided they couldn’t chuck him out of his seat due to a technicality in how the law was worded.
They also ruled that Carmichael’s attempt to smear Sturgeon had backfired. This is an often overlooked aspect of the case. Carmichael’s behaviour simply reinforced the perception that Westminster politicians believe the voters of Scotland to be gullible.
The case focussed voter’s minds on who the ‘real; enemy was (Westminster’s style of politics) and by making the election about ‘personal views’, ensured that the person with the most endearing personality (Nicola Sturgeon) came to the centre stage of an election she wasn’t even standing in.
So Carmichael, a politician who thinks that the people of Scotland are too stupid to run their own affairs, ensures his opponents (who have been ignored by the UK media in previous Westminster election) are centre stage of the media coverage. Good thinking Batman.
Carmichael spent 8 months defending his seat in the court of public opinion. 8 months that provided a steady stream of information on the despicable Westminster culture. 8 months of discussions concerning lies, leeks and dishonour. Had he not been a stupid disingenuous liar, he might have considered resigning. Instead, he made sure the story just kept going and going and going and, it’s not finished. He may yet be censured at Westminster.
If the Liberal party had any honour it would have disowned Carmichael, removed the whip and asked him to step down from his seat. Carmichael’s actions struck at the heart of democracy in Scotland.
When Nicola Sturgeon met the French Ambassador she was representing the people of Scotland. When Carmichael sought to cause trouble between Sturgeon and the representative of the French people he acted as if he was living in a previous century, e.g. the 16th century time of the Stuarts , when London’s interests might have been best served by keeping Scotland and France apart and where the views of the people, then known as ‘subjects’, mattered little.
The Stuart’s motto is now the motto of Scotland. It proclaims; Nemo me impune lacessit”, or: “No one provokes me with impunity”. Alistair Carmichael was to find out that you cross the people of Scotland at your peril – they raised £200,000 to ensure he was brought to court to explain his lies.
The media have suggested Carmichael will pursue his costs from the members of the Orkney electorate who took him to court. If he does so he will, again, be committing a massive error. He will, again, keep the case in our minds. He will, again, insult the people he is supposed to represent. He will, again, demonstrate that he is without dignity or honour.
The liberal Party inaction simply reminds us that this is the party that spent 5 years propping up the Tories whilst jettisoning its promises to the electorate (e.g. on student fees). This is a party that hasn’t lived in the age of honour for a long time.
Elsewhere, April would also see Scotrail wed to Abellio, The Caledonia Sleeper wed to Serco and Andy Murray wed (in Dunblane) to Kim Sears. As the year progressed Murray almost single-handedly won the Davis Cup (he won 8-0 in singles and 3.0 in doubles). At the end of the year he would win sports personality of the year, himself, and sports team of the year with his ‘team’ (mainly his brother Jamie, coach Leon Smith and the backroom staff – Ok, James Ward did win one match).
April 2015 brought debates a plenty. Nicola chided Ed for being Tory-Light (for not being brave enough to stand on an anti-austerity ticket) and asked Cameron for an explanation of where the 12 Billion welfare cuts were going to hit hardest. ‘Call me Dave’ prevaricated, subsequently he claimed the welfare cuts would not include family tax credit. After the election George Osborne was to make a liar of his leader by attempting to cut family tax credits.
May brought an election juggernaut called the SNP – proving to Blaire McDougall that you can’t play ‘project fear’ twice – the electorate took full advantage of their second chance to stick it to the ever so sleekit, self-congratulating and condescending Unionistas of the previous year.
A troika of not so wise Blairite men (Jim Murphy, Blaire McDougall and John McTernan) had chosen to stand on a platform that made them look like a bunch of welfare cutting, nuclear weapons loving, capitalist crazed, austerity junkies.
In the Scottish leader’s debates, Murphy was shifty and came across as if he couldn’t look the voter in the eye. My wife, who generally likes everyone, hated his insincerity and described him as having something to hide.
Labour were unable to make a silk purse out of a sows ear as the people of Scotland had lost trust with them after they had shared a platform with the Tories in the #indyref. Trust was so low that people believed little that Murphy had to say (including his claim, from left field, that he used to be a glue sniffer)
The decent folk of Scotland fell for none of Murphie’s patter. After Labour were all but wiped out (Only Ian Murray remained in Red Morningside) Unison concluded Scottish Labour lost because Murphy had made a pigs ear of their campaign and was not believed to be a credible messenger for their values – nae shit Sherlock.
Defeat may also have been related to the new labour troika of Murphy, McDougall and McTernan reminding the voters of 3 characters from Animal Farm: Napoleon (steals cow’s milk, stands on crates pontificating, and invents new commandments), The Knacker (boils down for glue the farm’s devoted horse named Boxer – or was it for campaign expenses?) and Squealer (the marketing ‘man’ spins that pigs are more moral than other animals).
Once the votes were counted, the figures spoke for themselves: SNP 56 seats, Unionistas 3 seats, Labour lost 40 seats and the lib Dems lost 10 seats. Key Labour and Liberal Unionistas to face the voters wrath included Murphy, Curran, Alexander (David), Alexander (Danny), Moore and Swinson.
Murphy ever in touch with reality, swore to fight on and then later was forced to step down.
Some called it a tsunami, some called it a landslide, some repatriated Boris Johnson’s racist term ‘Ajockalypse Now’ – whatever you called it, no one could deny that justice had been firmly dealt out by a Scots nation fed up with Westminster carpet-baggers.
The May elections results brought multiple-resignations, voters were heard chanting: ‘Miliband nae mair, Cleggy nae mair, Farage na mair – mur-pheee-naeee-maiiiir’ – ok Farage turned out to be more of a, ‘mibbies aye mibbies naw nae mair’.
Meanwhile and sadly for the most deprived members of our society, the ‘Forces of Darkness’ aka the Tory Party were caught creeping back into Westminster with a slender majority. The votes of the people of Scotland have since enabled strong opposition to Tory right-wing policies on various issues including: fox hunting, Sunday trading, a snooper’s charter and welfare reform. But how long can SNP MPs keep the Tory attack hounds at bay? If only we had voted aye in 2014….
After the excitement of the elections, June required a leap second to occur where clocks read 11:59:60 for an extra second to allow the Earth’s rotation to catch up with atomic time. Don’t expect me to explain scientifically what that means but rumour has it the clocks, out of sympathy, decided to give Scottish Labour more time to get over their shock.
Elsewhere and on a serious note, the first half of the year sadly ended with tragedy at home; when we learnt that the much loved Charles Kennedy had died and adversity abroad; when we discovered that Jim and Ann McQuire from Cumbernauld, and Billy and Lisa Graham from Bankfoot were among 38 people (30 Britons) killed on holiday when they are attacked on a Tunisian beach near the town of Sousse – may they all rest in peace.