The first three months of the year provided drama and tragedy, writes Stephen McGinty
MARY, Queen of Scots said: “In my end is my beginning”. Future historians may decide that, for the United Kingdom, the beginning of the end came with the beginning of this year. On 25 January, First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled the question the SNP government intends to ask voters in a referendum in 2014: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” Rarely have ten simple words and a question mark triggered such scrutiny.
Yet for the family of Stephen Lawrence, the murdered London teenager, the year began with just one word: “guilty”, a word which they had waited 18 years to hear. After almost two decades of investigations and inquests, Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years and 14 years respectively.
The words most closely associated with the sinking of the cruise ship Costa Concordia – which ran aground in the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in 32 deaths and multiple casualties – were the frustrated criticisms of the coastguard as he demanded that the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, return to the ship he had abandoned: “You may have saved yourself from the sea, but I will really hurt you. I will cause you so much trouble.”
Trouble once again found Salman Rushdie, who was banned from the Jaipur Literature Festival. Four writers – Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar – left the country after they defied a ban and read out extracts from Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
Trouble, meanwhile, had never left Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, who became the poster boy for the banking crisis in 2008 and who, at the end of January, was stripped of the knighthood he had received from the Queen for services to banking. Clearly he was not alone in causing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression but he became its public face and scapegoat and, in an ironic twist, the level of UK government debt rose for the first time above £1 trillion.
Sir Fred, or, well, just Fred, lost an award, but John Burnside, the Scots writer, won one with the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry.
Meanwhile, after they were wrongly addressed, two sacks of cocaine were accidentally delivered to the United Nations in New York.
THE ill wind that always comes with February caught Rangers Football Club in its chilling blast. In a move which a few years ago would have been inconceivable, one of Scotland’s most famous clubs went into administration as the government’s inland revenue department pursued it for non-payment of VAT and a potentially ruinous tax bill. In the first step towards disintegration and a tumble towards the lowest league, Rangers were docked ten points, which handed the league to Celtic.
While Rangers were battling to stay alive, Falkirk MP Eric Joyce delivered a potentially fatal blow to his career when he was charged with three counts of common assault after a drunken fracas in the bar of the House of Commons. As Joyce struggled to hold on to his job, the UK unemployment rate hit a 17-year high of 2.7 million.
He was not the only politician in trouble with the law. Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy, resigned after the Crown Prosecution Service announced it was pressing charges against him over claims that his wife accepted penalty points on her driving licence for speeding to spare him.
Links with the past were severed with the deaths of Florence Green, the last known veteran of the First World War (she worked as a nurse), who died at the age of 110, and of Thomas Watters, at the age of 99, who had been the last surviving Scot who fought in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.
Drug addiction claimed the life of Whitney Houston, who was found drowned in the bathtub of the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel. She was 48 years old and had been due to attend the Grammys, which were transformed into a celebration of her life and career and where the British singer Adele triumphed.
The Football Association dropped John Terry as captain of the England national football team over allegations of racial abuse against Anton Ferdinand during a match.
In Egypt, 73 people were killed in clashes between fans of football teams Al-Masry and Al-Ahly in the city of Port Said.
Paintings by Van Gogh, Degas and Pissarro from the personal collection of Elizabeth Taylor sold for £13.7 million at Christie’s in London.
A new book of poetry by president of Ireland Michael D Higgins was mocked by the critic Professor Kevin Kiely, who stated that the president “can be accused of crimes against literature”.
Britain was accused of holding on to an “archaic commitment to colonialist ideology” by the actor Sean Penn who, after meeting the Argentine president, urged the UK to hand back the “Malvinas Islands”. Queen Elizabeth II thought not as she marked her 60th anniversary.
Unfortunately, Shakira, the Colombian pop star, was attacked by a sea lion in Cape Town.
MARCH was a month in which it was a case of out with the old and in with the new. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, the oldest encyclopaedia still in print in English, announced the end of printed versions of the multi-volume set after 244 years, though it insisted that online editions would still be available. Seven million sets were said to have been sold since 1768, yet as evidence of how the world had changed in the past two decades, the Apple Store also announced the sale of its 25 billionth app.
In British politics, the old became new again as George Galloway became the first MP since Winston Churchill to have represented three different seats in two different countries. The Respect Party leader stunned Labour by winning the Bradford West by-election with a majority of 10,140 votes.
Other Scots to have enjoyed a spring victory were Kilmarnock FC, who won the Scottish League Cup for the first time in their history after beating Celtic 1-0, and Perth, who won a Diamond Jubilee contest to become Scotland’s seventh city.
For the friends and family of Paul McBride, March, not April, was the cruellest month after the Scots QC was found dead in his hotel room while visiting Pakistan. He died of an undiagnosed heart condition.
The BBC’s World at One reported that Margaret Thatcher, when prime minister, was briefed by political advisers that the Hillsborough disaster was caused, according to senior police officers, by drunken Liverpool fans, when the cause was, in fact, the police themselves.
Peter Cruddas resigned as the treasurer of the Tory Party after he was filmed selling access to the Prime Minister for £250,000.
The Metropolitan Police became embroiled in a racism scandal after a black man used his mobile phone to record police officers subjecting him to a tirade of abuse, including being told: “The problem with you is you will always be a n*****.”
Meanwhile, James Cameron, the Canadian filmmaker, became the first person in 50 years to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean, the deepest point on Earth, in the Deepsea Challenger.
A gas leak at the Elgin platform led to the evacuation of 238 workers.
The British Film Institute announced the rediscovery of the world’s oldest Charles Dickens film, which dated from 1901 and featured a depiction of a character from Bleak House.
In a dark echo of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, a US soldier murdered 16 civilians in the Panjwayi district of Afghanistan near Kandahar.