2010 – 2019: Ten years of turmoil, terror and triumph

It was a decade packed with turmoil and upheaval, which draws to a close leaving more questions than it provided answers.

The Glasgow School of Art fire. Picture: John Devlin
The Glasgow School of Art fire. Picture: John Devlin

From the decision to pull the UK out of the European Union to the continuing debate over Scotland’s constitutional future, the past 10 years have all but ripped up the rule book and left a nation divided.

It was a decade beset by terror and tragedy, as well as moments of sporting glory which united the country in wonder and admiration.

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

And eight years after Sweetie and Sunshine arrived at Edinburgh Zoo from China, Scotland is still waiting – in hope if not expectation – that a giant panda cub will eventually follow.

In politics, the decade began with First Minister Alex Salmond laying the legislative groundwork for a referendum on Scottish independence and preparing for a general election which saw Labour win 41 seats. It ended with Salmond appearing in court charged with carrying out a series of sexual offences against 10 women, allegations he denies. Labour, meanwhile, was left bemoaning the loss of all but one of its seats.

The dramatic changes to the political landscape began in 2010, when the Conservative Party gained power for the first time since 1997 in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

After months of arguments, offers and confrontations, Scotland voted to remain in the UK in the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014.

David Cameron returned to Number 10 as the head of a majority government the following year, delivering a crushing blow to Labour’s Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, who both went on to quit as party leaders.

But that election was notable in other ways, not least the historic landslide victory achieved by the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon, with the party winning 56 out of 59 seats.

That tension between Scotland and the UK would be played out for the rest of the decade, especially during the referendum on its membership of the EU. The biggest political controversy in living memory saw the UK vote to part ways with Europe. Some 52 per cent of the public supported Brexit in the June 2016 vote, although in Scotland, a decisive 62 per cent of people opted to remain.

The result was a victory for then Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who became one of the most recognisable political figures of the decade, and a humiliating defeat for Cameron, who brought an abrupt end to his six-year premiership with a hasty resignation.

Divisions deepened during the tenure of Theresa May, who will be remembered for her failure to deliver Brexit, and Boris Johnson, who took the public to the polls for the first December general election in nearly a century.

Johnson promised to lead a “One Nation” government and urged people “to find closure and to let the healing begin” following a landslide Tory victory that saw the party gain its biggest majority in Westminster since the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.

The SNP, however, achieved a landslide in Scotland with 48 seats and 45 per cent of the vote, ensuring that 2020 and beyond will be defined by questions over Scotland’s future in the UK and Europe.

Brexit was not the only political upset during the decade. After 18 months of campaigning – often bitter, frequently bizarre and sometimes barely believable – Donald Trump triumphed over Hillary Clinton and was elected president of the United States in 2016.

Away from politics, it was the dozens of lives lost in the Manchester Arena bombing, the Grenfell Tower blaze and a series of violent attacks across London that saw the decade defined by terror and tragedy.

The shocking deaths of MP Jo Cox – stabbed to death by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair in her constituency in 2016 – and Fusilier Lee Rigby – rammed with a car before being hacked to death in 2013 – also horrified the nation.

Some 71 people died when flames engulfed Grenfell Tower in London’s deadliest fire since the Second World War.

Relatives and survivors are still searching for answers after the inquiry’s phase one report, published more than two years after the tragedy, found the London Fire Brigade’s preparation for a tower block blaze to be “gravely inadequate”. The second stage of the public inquiry is due to begin early next year.

In 2017, election campaigning was suspended for three days when 22 lives were claimed following an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert. Those killed included Eilidh MacLeod, aged just 14, from Barra.

London Bridge, Westminster and Finsbury Park all became targets for terrorists in the same year, making it one of the most significant of modern times.

In 2016, Scotland had already been shocked after Asad Shah, a shopkeeper in the Shawlands area of Glasgow, was stabbed to death outside his store in a religiously motivated murder. The 40-year-old was an Ahmadi, a minority sect not recognised by all Muslims. His killer, Tanveer Ahmed, a Sunni Muslim, said he killed Shah because he had posted videos online in which he claimed to be a prophet.

It was also a decade when people woke up to the realities of the climate crisis and the world’s nations united for the historic Paris climate agreement.

Spells of flooding destroyed homes while the so-called Beast from the East storm froze swaths of Scotland in 2018, just a year before the UK recorded its hottest day on record.

An explosion of social media usage was not without its controversies. The 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked the tech industry when an investigation found data from millions of Facebook profiles had been harvested to influence choices at the ballot box.

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange spent seven years of the decade seeking asylum in London’s Ecuadorean embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation he had always denied.

Swedish authorities discontinued the rape investigation in November but, after being dramatically removed from the embassy building in April, Assange was jailed for 50 weeks in May for breaching his bail conditions.

Mark Duggan’s death at the hands of a Metropolitan Police marksman sparked nationwide riots and days of unrest in summer 2011, as buildings were set alight and protesters engaged in stand-offs with riot police.

There was controversy in 2013 and a crisis of faith among Scotland’s Catholics after Cardinal Keith O’Brien stepped down after being accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards priests. He died just five years later, 
aged 80.

A worldwide movement began in 2013 using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to protest against the police treatment and systemic racism against black people.

Police officers have been deployed in their masses for a series of protests across the decade, including at demos against student fee increases in 2010, anti-Brexit marches and, most recently, action staged by Extinction Rebellion.

Questions were asked over the actions of police and other authorities following the exposure of child sexual exploitation rings in Rochdale and Rotherham.

The 2012 murders of schoolgirls April Jones, five, from Machynlleth in west Wales, and Tia Sharp, 12, from southeast London, prompted an outpouring of grief.

And police forces found themselves under pressure from a rise in knife crime, with scores of teenagers stabbed to death on the nation’s streets in recent years.

In 2014, Scottish legal history was made after Angus Sinclair, the World’s End serial killer and rapist, was jailed for a minimum of 37 years – the longest sentence ever handed out – after being found guilty of murdering Helen Scott and her friend Christine Eadie.

Tragedy struck one of Scotland’s great architectural works, the Glasgow School of Art, that same year, causing extensive damage to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece. However, just four years later, another blaze swept through the structure, devastating it once more.

While one architectural wonder was lost, another emerged triumphantly from the Firth of Forth with the opening of the Queensferry Crossing in 2017.

The £1.34bn bridge, considered a feat of modern engineering, was the biggest infrastructure project in Scotland for a generation, and took its place in the history books as the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world.

It was followed in 2018 by the opening of V&A Dundee, with the £80.1m building, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, lauded by critics and members of the public alike.

A figure prominent in the previous decade, Tony Blair, reemerged to give evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the war against Iraq twice, in 2010 and 2011. The long-awaited report criticised the actions of the former prime minister and other leading politicians and senior officials when it was published in 2016.

The actions of the press also came under scrutiny in Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into media standards. A series of revelations about phone hacking saw the closure of the News Of The World in 2011 and recommendations were made about the future of press regulation.

Big Ben stopped chiming in 2017 for the undertaking of major repair conservation work, expected to run until 2021. It is expected to be the longest silence for the bell, which did not chime for two years during the First World War.

Some 888,246 hand-made ceramic flowers provided a scene of remembrance in November 2014 as the nation marked 100 years since the start of the First World War. There were also events for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, with elderly veterans making what was for many their last visit to Normandy to commemorate the events of 6 June, 1944.

The decade’s sense of terror was felt across the world in a string of international attacks and tragedies.

Anders Breivik, disguised as a policeman, killed 77 people in two separate gun attacks in Norway in 2011.

Paris became a target for terrorism in 2015, when gunmen stormed the building of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and months later targeted the Bataclan concert hall during a series of coordinated attacks in which 130 people were killed.

The same year Britain joined air strikes on IS targets in the war-torn country of Syria after MPs voted in favour of extending military action from Iraq.

Also in 2015 the shocking image of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach made headlines across the world at the height of the European migrant crisis.

In 2016, some 32 people were killed in terror attacks on Brussels and more than 80 were murdered in Nice when a lone terrorist drove a lorry into crowds celebrating Bastille Day.

A black cloud hung over the entertainment industry in a decade rocked by scandals over sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement.

Former entertainer Jimmy Savile was exposed as a serial child sex abuser in 2012, leading to the launch of Operation Yewtree, a criminal investigation into widespread sexual abuse.

Allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein began to emerge in October 2017 – claims he has denied. The story developed as more women began to share their stories of harassment and assault in Hollywood and beyond.

Despite some years filled with devastating lows, it was an eventful time for followers of Scottish sport.

Rangers fell into administration, with the club liquidated in 2012. In their absence from the top flight, Celtic prospered, although the two fierce rivals are now on more of a level footing than they have been for seven years, with today’s Old Firm encounter eagerly anticipated.

It was away from football, however, that the big Scottish sporting successes were to be found.

Glasgow 2014 was hailed as “the standout Games in the history of the movement” by Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper, although the debate over the legacy of the Games in a city blighted by poverty continues to this day.

Sir Andy Murray made history in the summer of 2013 by defeating Novak Djokovic to claim the Wimbledon men’s singles championship.

In doing so, he became the first British male to win the tournament in 77 years and the second Scottish-born player to win Wimbledon since Harold Mahony in 1896.

He repeated the feat in 2016, and together with a US Open title – not to mention two men’s single Olympic titles – he ended the decade resurgent after injury woes threatened to curtain his career prematurely.

There was also a glittering farewell for one of Scotland’s greatest ever competitors, Sir Chris Hoy, who led out Team GB at the opening ceremony at the London Olympics in 2012.

However, his role as flag-bearer was quickly overshadowed by his prowess on the track, and he took the gold medal in the team sprint together with Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny – setting two world records along the way – before taking gold in the keirin to close his Olympic career.

That year, Olympic fever combined with royal pageantry to turn much of the country into a sea of red, white and blue for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The monarch even made her acting debut in the London 2012 blockbuster opening ceremony which enchanted millions of viewers around the world.

Indeed, interest in the royal family rose in 2011, when a then 28-year-old Prince William married Kate Middleton in a fairy-tale wedding held at Westminster Abbey.

And the nation caught a first glimpse of a future king when their first son, Prince George, was born in 2013.

All eyes were on a second royal wedding some seven years later, when Prince Harry married American actress Meghan Markle in a lavish and star-studded ceremony at Windsor Castle that was watched by millions on both sides of the Atlantic.

After a year – and a decade – dominated by politics, 2019 closed with the murders of Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at the hands of convicted terrorist Usman Khan during a prisoner rehabilitation event in London on 29 November.

The attack came just weeks after the UK’s terrorism threat level was downgraded to “substantial” from “severe”.

As he begins a new term as prime minister, Boris Johnson has promised tougher sentences to ensure terrorists spend longer in prison.

But with the UK divided over Brexit and Nicola Sturgeon pressing for a second referendum on Scottish independence, Johnson’s top priority will be holding together a political union that looks increasingly fragile after a tumultuous decade.