2013 in review: Grangemouth, Clutha and Mandela

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Autumn is not the best time to switch the lights out and shut off the power, but then again, there is no good time to have an industrial dispute that escalates into a national crisis. At the Grangemouth oil refinery the power of the Unite union was shut off. Meanwhile, the SNP government decided that the dark days of November were the best time to show off the bright new future it says awaits if Scots vote for independence. In Glasgow, tragedy hit a city centre pub, while in South Africa the nation’s brightest beacon finally went out, and one man’s death was felt all around the world. Stephen McGinty looks back at 2013’s turbulent close


The Duke of Wellington with his cone. Picture: Getty

The Duke of Wellington with his cone. Picture: Getty

The Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical plant was shut down by its owner after the Unite union threatened industrial action in defence of the union rep Stephen Dean, accused of using company time and computers to “fix” the Falkirk by-election and secure the selection of a union-friendly candidate. The stand-off ended in humiliation for Unite, and job losses. Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, said the union was the victim of “despicable attacks”.

John McCririck, the 73-year-old former racing pundit for Channel 4, took the station to an employment tribunal, accusing them of ageism after he was sacked. He lost. It was announced that 70 police stations in Scotland were to close in a bid to reduce Police Scotland costs.

The arrival of James Naughtie on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland prompted a satirical dig from Derek Bateman, the show’s former presenter, who wrote a blog post accusing Naughtie of favouring the Tories over the SNP in an interview. Cufflinks made from the teeth of a lion that rampaged through Blairgowrie in 1905 before being shot by police went on display at the town’s jewellers, Victor & Sons. Hundreds of patients had hospital appointments and cancer treatments cancelled when NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s computer system went on the blink.

Annie Lennox described the pop videos of today’s female singers as “highly stylised porn accompanied by music”. Her 
Facebook posting was a response to the likes of Miley Cyrus’s video in which she swung naked but for Dr Martens astride a giant wrecking ball in a song called, well, Wrecking Ball.

Michael Moore was ditched as Scottish Secretary and replaced by Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and 

Dario Franchitti, the Scots racing driver, fractured his spine in a high-speed Indycar crash in Houston, but was said not to require surgery. Scarlett Johansson was named “sexiest woman alive” by Esquire magazine for the second time. Professor Peter Higgs, emeritus professor of Theoretical Physics at Edinburgh University, won the Nobel Prize for physics for theorising the so-called God particle. As he lacked a mobile phone, the Nobel committee was unable to inform him in advance and he learned the news from a neighbour. He celebrated with a glass of his favourite beer, London Pride.

The Commonwealth Games baton left Buckingham Palace, carried aloft by Sir Chris Hoy at the beginning of a 123,000-mile journey through the Commonwealth nations on route to Glasgow. The Booker Prize was won by Eleanor Catton, who at 28 was the shortlist’s youngest author with the longest book, the 832-page The Luminaries. The Royal Mail stock market launch was hugely oversubscribed.

Lou Reed, the rock legend behind the Velvet Underground, died at the age of 71. The trial of Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister’s former spin doctor and ex-editor of the News of the World, and that of Rebekah Brooks, began at the Old Bailey with revelations of an affair between the pair. Kirsty Wark ended the Hallowe’en edition of Newsnight by performing Michael Jackson’s dance from his Thriller video.


Alex Salmond unveiled the white paper on independence, a 670-page document that provided the most detailed plans yet for an independent Scotland and which he said would give voters the opportunity to build a “better Scotland”. Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland assured voters that they would still be able to watch EastEnders, while dumping Trident. However, the Welsh First Minister said his country could block an independent Scotland’s plans to join a pound-sharing union with the remainder of the UK.

A Royal Marine was convicted of the murder of a wounded Afghan prisoner of war. A typhoon killed thousands of people in the Philippines.

Mick Jagger denied making a pass at Katy Perry when she was an 18-year-old backing singer. His spokesman said: “Maybe she got him confused with someone else.”

The sell-off of RBS, which is 80 per cent owned by the government, was put back to 2016. Work began on what promises to be the world’s tallest statue. The image of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister, will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.

Shelter Scotland said 5,000 Scots children would be homeless for Christmas. In Munich, £1 billion of art looted by the Nazis, including works by Picasso, Renoir and Matisse, were found behind rotting food in an apartment. Glenmorangie was named “the best dram in the world” by the Whisky Bible.

BAE announced 800 job losses at Govan and Scotstoun shipyards. For the first time in their history, the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ appeared before a Westminster committee, and said they had thwarted 34 terrorist plots since the bombings in London on 7 July, 2005. Residents of St Andrews raised £5,000 to erect a life-size statue to Hamish McHamish, a popular cat. Police Scotland clamped down on saunas operating as brothels after years of the former constabulary, Lothian and Borders, turning a blind eye. Sean Conway was the first person to swim the length of Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats. It took him 136 days to swim the 1,000 miles. Oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood said the North Sea oil industry could deliver £200 billion into the economy over the next 20 years if major changes were made to the 

Glasgow City Council ditched plans to raise the plinth on which sits the statue of the Duke of Wellington in order to prevent “vandals” putting the iconic traffic cone on his head. A Scot was attacked by a crocodile while playing golf in Mexico. Microsoft and Google agreed to block internet searches for child abuse images and videos after lobbying by David Cameron.

Edinburgh city council defended a golliwog which appeared in a 1930’s mural in a primary school and said it should not be removed. Monty Python stars announced plans to reform for the first time in more than 30 years. America marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas.

The month ended in tragedy when a Police Scotland helicopter crashed into the Clutha pub in Glasgow, which was packed on a busy Friday night. Ten people died: seven pub patrons and the three helicopter crew.


Billy Connolly flew in from New York to lay a floral tribute at the site of the Clutha helicopter crash. It was a pub in which he had played many times and he said the reaction of the city to the tragedy made him “very, very proud to be a Glaswegian”. His note read: “Rest in Peace friends, Billy Connolly.” The Air Accident Investigation Branch said there was no initial evidence of engine or gearbox failure as they continued to search for an explanation for the crash.The turf at Hampden Park was dug up in preparation for the ground’s conversion into an athletic stadium ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Tom Daley, the Olympic diver, released a YouTube video in which he said he was very happily “dating a man”. TV cook 
Nigella Lawson appeared in court during the trial of her personal assistants for fraud and denied that she was a drug addict, but admitted taking cocaine and smoking cannabis on a number of occasions.

Flights to and from Britain were disrupted when the air-traffic control system became stuck on the setting used during the night and would not switch to its usual daytime setting. RBS was forced to apologise after its IT system crashed, leaving hundreds of thousands of customers unable to access their money.

A group of Scottish business leaders said it was in both Scotland and Britain’s interests that an independent Scotland retain the pound for “the foreseeable future”. Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, said that if voters in Scotland return a No vote, they may be asked again in 15 years time.

The death of Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison before becoming South Africa’s first black president, led to worldwide mourning. However, the BBC received a number of complaints about their extensive coverage and decision to interrupt Mrs Brown on BBC1. At his memorial service, US President Barack Obama described Mandela as a “giant of history” who made him wish to be “a better man”. Glasgow took pride in being the first city to award its freedom to Nelson Mandela back in 1981, but Alex Salmond was unable to secure an invitation to the memorial service or funeral. Britain was represented by the Prime Minister David Cameron, whose party, the Conservatives, considered Mandela for many years to be a terrorist.

Susan Boyle, the Britain’s Got Talent contestant who went on to become a global success as a singer, revealed that she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

The 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster was marked by remembrance services in London and the Borders town where 270 died when Pan-Am flight 103 was blown up in 1988. The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland said Libya had appointed two prosecutors to tackle an international investigation into the bombing as there were others “with blood on their hands” who had not yet been brought to justice.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un executed his uncle for crimes against the state, among them, unenthusiastic clapping.

The year drew to a close with stormy weather and the deaths of Peter O’Toole, the legendary actor who starred in Lawrence of Arabia, “Great Train Robber” Ronnie Biggs and BBC sports commentator David Coleman.

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