2015 in review: General election | disaster strikes

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP MPs after a tremendous general election for the party. Picture: Jon Savage

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP MPs after a tremendous general election for the party. Picture: Jon Savage

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Martin Hannan’s look back at the past 12 months, continues with April to June

APRIL

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter. Picture: AFP

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter. Picture: AFP

The general election campaign had been under way for months, even if it only began officially at the end of March. An impressive performance by Nicola Sturgeon on the first-ever UK-wide leaders’ television debate to feature the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, boosted her image ­considerably.

No sooner had Ms Sturgeon excelled than the Frenchgate scandal erupted. Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael authorised an aide to leak a civil service memo that claimed Sturgeon had told the French Ambassador that she wanted David Cameron in 10 Downing Street. The First Minister and the Ambassador both denied it, and Mr Carmichael lied about knowing what he knew. The story exploded on to the front pages and backfired on Mr Carmichael, who was accused of dirty tricks after saying “these things happen in politics”. A Cabinet Office inquiry was ordered, but the result would not be known until after the general election.

With all the polls suggesting a hung parliament, attention switched to the possibility of an SNP-Labour pact to keep out the Tories. Ed Miliband had little choice but to say he would not form such an alliance, while the SNP said they were at least open to it.

Further Scotland-based television debates saw Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy underperform, while Ms Sturgeon, the Greens co-convener Partrick Harvie and especially Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives all enhanced their standing. The single biggest issue of the campaign soon became the various parties’ policy on austerity measures.

Bilel Mohsni and Lee Erwin clash at the end of the Premiership play-off final. Picture: Getty

Bilel Mohsni and Lee Erwin clash at the end of the Premiership play-off final. Picture: Getty

Campaigning in Scotland stopped briefly as all parties mourned the death of Labour’s former Scottish minister Tom McCabe who died, aged 60.

At the end of the month, a disastrous earthquake struck Nepal, killing 9,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Hundreds of those who died were caught in avalanches on Mount Everest.

Earlier in the month, al-Shabaab militants attacked Garissa University in Kenya, killing 140 people before detonating suicide bombs.

Riots and arson broke out in the city of Baltimore after the death of African-American Freddie Gray in police custody.

Former Lib-Dem leader Charles Kennedy passed away. Picture: John Devlin

Former Lib-Dem leader Charles Kennedy passed away. Picture: John Devlin

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro of Cuba held a historic meeting, the first between the leaders of the two countries since the Cuban Revolution. Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the presidency.

In sport, Jordan Spieth, then just 21, won the US Masters. He would go on to win the US Open and become world number one.

MAY

The result that no one predicted saw David Cameron’s Conservative Party win an overall majority in the Commons in the general election. Labour performed disastrously and in the end, it wasn’t even close. The SNP had been predicted to do well, and the party duly won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, with 20-year-old Mhairi Black, victor over shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfewshire South, becoming the youngest MP to be elected in decades. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives got one Scottish seat each.

Such major party figures as shadow chancellor Ed Balls, Labour’s Scottish leader Jim Murphy and shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran were all unseated, as were Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats. George Galloway lost his Bradford West seat, while Ukip took only one, Douglas Carswell winning Clacton. Labour’s Ed Miliband, the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg and (briefly) Nigel Farage of Ukip all resigned their leaderships immediately, while Jim Murphy clung on to his Scottish leadership for a few days before accepting the inevitable and standing down.

The SNP MPs made an immediate impact in the Commons, but had to be reminded by the Speaker that applauding colleagues was not allowed. All politics stood aside as the 100th anniversary of the Quintinshill rail disaster, in which 226 people died, was commemorated in Dumfriesshire and Edinburgh.

Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge was born. She is fourth in line to the throne. During a brief visit to Ireland, Prince Charles and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams met and shook hands, the first time a member of the Royal Family had done so.

In Nepal, severe aftershocks hampered the post-earthquake international rescue effort. Britain and many other countries promised aid to the homeland of the Gurkhas, but the conditions remained appalling for the thousands rendered homeless.

Nigeria had been plagued by attacks and kidnappings by the Boko Haram Islamist militants. For once the Nigerian army scored a huge success, rescuing 234 women and girls in the Samibisa Forest.

In Waco, Texas, two rival biker gangs opened fire on each other. Nine were killed and 18 injured.

Blues legend BB King died at the age of 89. Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash Jr, subject of the film A Beautiful Mind, was killed at the age of 86 along with his wife Alicia in a taxi accident.

RBS, Barclays and three other banks were fined $5.7 billion (£3.8 million) by US authorities after an investigation into the rigging of foreign exchange rates.

In sport, Celtic under Norwegian manager Ronny Deila romped to their fourth straight championship by beating Dundee 5-0, their title confirmed when nearest challengers Aberdeen lost to Dundee United. There was no treble for Celtic, however, as they had lost to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup semi-final the previous month, John Hughes’s team going on to win a historic first Scottish Cup by beating Falkirk 2-1 at Hampden.

The Scottish Championship had been wrapped up by runaway winners Hearts as far back as March, and Hibs, Rangers and Queen of the South fought out the Premiership play-offs with Motherwell. Under new chairman Dave King and caretaker manager Stuart McCall, Rangers narrowly beat both Queens and Hibs to make the play-off final but were thrashed 6-1 on aggregate over the two legs, Motherwell staying up and Rangers’ hopes of a straight return to the top flight dashed.

In England, Chelsea won the English Premier League and Arsenal beat Aston Villa 4-0 to win the FA Cup.

Six Fifa officials were arrested on suspicion of corruption – this became a running story. In a controversial vote, President Sepp Blatter kept his job, albeit briefly.

JUNE

Once again a terrorist outrage dominated the headlines. At the Port El Kantaoui resort in Tunisia, a gunman armed with an assault rifle concealed in a beach umbrella opened fire on helpless tourists, killing 38 of whom 30 were British. It was the second time in three months Tunisia’s tourism industry was assailed by Islamist extremists, 22 having died in the earlier Bardo Museum attack.

The month started badly for Scotland with the death of Charles Kennedy from a haemorrhage. The former leader of the Liberal Democrats had lost his Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat at the general election, and Kennedy, who had battled alcoholism for many years, had also lost his father Ian in April. Scotland mourned the loss of a much-liked political personality, and fulsome tributes were paid to him from all sides of politics.

The aftermath of the election saw attention turn to the future of the UK in Europe. Prime Minister David Cameron had confirmed that an in-out referendum would be held by 2017, and the debate began in earnest, pausing for the celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

Labour’s leadership elections in Scotland and across the UK as a whole got under way. Kezia Dugdale was favourite for the Scottish leadership, while Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper vied for the overall leadership – but wait, who’s that fellow Jeremy Corbyn?

Yet all home news was soon overwhelmed by the pictures and reports from the Mediterranean where thousands of migrants had to be rescued, while many thousands more began the long voyage north, escaping from Syria and parts of Africa.

In a church in Charleston, South Carolina, nine black worshippers were gunned down by 21-year Dylann Roof who said he wanted to start a race war.

Disasters seemed everywhere. More than 400 people drowned when a ship capsized on the Yangtse river in China, while more than 1,000 people died in heatwave in Pakistan. A military plane crashed into the city of Medan in Indonesia, killing 116 people. The Greek economic crisis deepened, even after the European Central Bank gave the country more cash. Prime minister Tsipras called a referendum on bailout plans.

HSBC bank announced plans to cut up to 25,000 jobs worldwide, with 8,000 in the UK.

Singer Van Morrison was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, as was actor and comedian Lenny Henry for his work with Comic Relief.

The actors Christopher Lee, Patrick ‘Steed’ Macnee, Ron ‘Fagin’ Moody, and Glenn Ford all died in this month, as did ‘Braveheart’ composer James Horner and bandleader James Last.

In football, Barcelona beat Juventus in a classic European Champions League final.

American Pharoah (and yes, the owner misspelled the name) became the first horse to win America’s Triple Crown in 37 years, on the same day that Frankie Dettori rode Golden Horn to victory in the Epsom Derby.

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