BILL Jamieson gets way ahead of himself, with a column looking back on the startling events of the year to come
Dateline: 27 December, 2013
Whoever would have dared predict the startling up and downs for Scotland in 2013? It began in a pall of gloom, the pundits predicting another 12 months of “same old…” And so it seemed for a time, until the year took off like a box of Hogmanay fireworks.
It proved an impossible year to summarise. For historians seeking a clean-cut summation, the year has set down more than its fair share of booby traps. As an initial guide I have grouped the outstanding events – six “ups” and six “downs” – under a few convenient headings. There will be criticism, of course, that key developments have been glossed over or omitted altogether, but that is inevitable in a year as surprising as 2013.
Down: 2013 began as 2012 ended – drookit. Relentless rain continued into what was once known as “spring”. Every day brought news of floods, burst banks, landslips, road and rail closures and storm lashings on both east and west coasts. Night after night, BBC Scotland’s thermal-wrapped Catriona Renton became the Orla Guerin of Scotland’s weather: “I’m standing here in the midden of Drookit…”
Up: When the rain stopped, Scotland went on to enjoy one of the hottest summers on record. City centre café owners scrapped the algae off their outdoor tables, and meals could safely be eaten outdoors.
Sure enough, by September hosepipe bans were widely introduced down south, and the First Minister told the Scottish Parliament of Scotland’s booming new commodity export – water.
Up: Scotland’s prospects for the 2013 Calcutta Cup kicking off the Six Nations rugby tournament had been so roundly written off that few fans made the trek to Twickenham. An all-too-predictable early 3-0 lead confirmed the pessimists’ deepest forebodings: that’s how our drubbings always start. But three magnificent tries deep into the second half saw an inspired Scotland team emerge heroic and triumphant. All looked set for a season that would see the national team restored to former glories. Demand for Murrayfield tickets soared.
Down: Barely had the ink dried on press plaudits for the born-again Scotland team than it crashed to a series of humiliating defeats, culminating in an abject 42-3 defeat at the hands of Italy. Three quick-fire Italian tries scored from interceptions evoked memories of previous Mediterranean disasters. Scotland could once again be looking for another coach.
Up: 2013 began well for a beleaguered Scottish economy. Latest official figures on gross domestic product showing a 0.7 per cent gain pointed to a remarkably resilient performance in stark contrast to the 2012 gloom.
Could it be that Scotland’s economy was at last bucking the trend, that the multi-billion-pound investment in renewable energy and the administration’s impressively long list of “shovel ready” projects were at last paying off? Cabinet Secretary John Swinney talked glowingly of “gathering momentum” and the ripening fruits of the Scottish Government’s stimulus measures.
Down: We were soon reminded that in Scottish economics everything is relative, not least the description “latest figures”. The numbers were, of course, five months out of date, referring to the third quarter of 2012 when the UK economy as a whole had done surprisingly well, gaining 0.9 per cent in the July-September period.
Since then the graphs were pointing down. Gloom swiftly re-descended as a new forecast from the Fraser of Allander Institute warned of the arrival of a “triple-dip” recession. John Swinney talked of “headwinds” and blamed the Westminster administration for not boosting the economy.
Up: It is hard now to recall the euphoria that greeted the announcement by the AIM-listed Italian gas exploration minnow Forza Del Destino of a massive discovery of shale gas in the central Highlands.
Preliminary estimates of sufficient shale gas to transform Scotland’s energy prospects brought an immediate confidence boost for Scottish business and not least for the SNP, for whom the discovery offered the prospect of endless years of Scottish budget surplus.
Alex Salmond announced plans for another epochal pipeline development, running parallel to the game-changing water pipe investment that would lift Scotland into the top three world economies with a Triple A credit rating.
Down: Barely had the champagne bottles been cleared from the wheelie bins of St Andrews House than detailed maps leaked from the offices of Forza Del Destino revealed that the shale gas deposits ran directly underneath the Great Caledonian Rift, immediately triggering fears that intense high pressure fracking could result in Scotland being split in two.
Further maps to the south also revealed that some of the most promising shale gas deposits ran straight underneath the Beauly-Denny power line, posing a potential threat to the giant pylons. As quickly as the euphoria erupted, it evaporated under a hail of dire prophecies from Green campaigners.
Down: There seemed no end to the traumas and convulsions at Creative Scotland. Splits and resignations continued into as the board disintegrated into three ferociously opposed camps: “Colonists”, “Settlers” and “Truly Oors”.
Chairman Sir Sandy Crombie was forced to resign after an offhand interview remark that the job was worse than being a director of RBS.
Up: A new production by the National Theatre of Scotland is a smash hit at the Edinburgh International Festival.
Directed by the acclaimed Hungarian dramatist Heinz Kiosk, and with Danish actress Sophie Gråbøl (of The Killing) in the lead role as a mobile phone “narrator” to the audience, the four-hour play is a dark and unsparing reconstruction of the internal feuds of a national cultural institution, ending in a blacked-out stage and 45 minutes of intense post-modern silence.
Up: The autumn saw the publication of the Scottish Government’s long-awaited white paper setting out arrangements for an independent Scotland.
Running to 14 sections and 450 pages, and claiming to answer all the difficult questions post-independence, it was launched at Murrayfield with a gala concert and pipe bands as dozens of Parcel Force motor cyclists revving up to deliver the document to 150 countries.
Down: Barely two days later, a beleaguered David Cameron, under growing pressure from mutinous backbenchers, announced a multi-question referendum on the UK’s future relationship with the EU to be held in… the autumn of 2014.
We faced a complicated series of votes that could result in Scotland remaining in the EU and UK, or being the only part of the former UK remaining as an EU member, or halfway between – pending, of course, on the outcome of more referendums to approve the re-negotiated terms.
What a momentous year 2014 is now set to prove – turning 2013 into just another of those hum-drum. “same old” years that historians will struggle to remember.