Early kick-off for political football

In the first of a four-part series, ROBERT McNEIL gives his unique perspective on the key events of the first three months of 2007.

THE year got off to a great start for curmudgeons when the Hogmanay Party in Edinburgh was cancelled due to inclement weather. In more good news, Saddam Hussein was bunged into an unmarked grave. And him sae kind to the wee birdies, tae: an American military nurse, who cared for him at Camp Cropper, said the deposed dictator used to feed them crusts. Before giving an evil laugh and crushing them underfoot. Joking.

An infinitely more tragic death was that of Lord Anthony Lambton, 84, a former Tory defence minister famously photographed in bed with two prostitutes while smoking a joint. Lambton had dedicated himself to "gardening and debauchery" after losing a legal battle about a toff title.

Asked why he used call-girls, he said: "I think that people sometimes like variety… and I think that impulse is probably understood by almost everybody. Don't you?" I'm saying nothing. His favourite call-girl was known as The Nun, so maybe that's where he got the habit.

Every year, politics has a habit of rearing its ugly head and – no kidding – this happened again in 2007. As usual, it brought out humanity's better qualities, such as cynicism and distrust. Research revealed that "just" 56 per cent of Scots trusted the Holyrood parliament. Though this seems abnormally high for a western democracy, the figure was 81 per cent in 1999. In a healthier development, Scots still blamed Westminster for everything.

Gordie Broon, the leading Kirkcaldy personality and Chancellor, carried oot his pledge to "show the positive case for the Union" by painting a bleak picture of life under independence. Key Scottish industries would be placed in grave danger, he warned, and English investors would withdraw billions of pounds, putting thousands out of work. How we laughed. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, joined in, marking the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union by warning independence would be "crazy". Later, he clarified his remarks by saying it would be "disastrous".

Elsewhere, the anniversary was celebrated with a deafening silence, other than a few drips in the ladies' lavatory at Edinburgh's Bella Italia restaurant on the Royal Mile. This is where some historians think the treaty was signed.

Up the road, on a grim, grey February day, three black-coated figures entered the high halls of the Clydesdale Bank's HQ. Broon and two other London Scottish ministers, Douglas "Krankie" Alexander and Alistair "Diabolical" Darling, were on an important mission: to persuade Scotch businessmen to join in all the stuff about how grim life would be under independence. Prominent among these was David Murray, the chairman of Rangers Football Club, a Glasgow institution respected worldwide for its tolerance. Murray assured the desperate trio he was ready to do everything for the country he loved. England.

On the wider football front, Walter Smith gave up managing Scotland and returned to his beloved Rangers, while former Rangers manager Alex McLeish became the new Scotland boss, signing a contract till 2010. Broon, meanwhile, scored a spectacular own goal by naming England, not Scotland, as the team he'd like to win the World Cup. Launching the English bid for the 2018 competition, he said he hoped the host nation would win the tournament. Asked about the Scotland team, he said only that they would "do well".

Sometimes, it's nice to look abroad for something even more insane than life at home. In North Koreashire, floral displays and singing soldiers marked the birthday of the country's loony dictator, Kim Jong-Il, who'd reached the age of 65. Aw, bless. Wonder if he got new platform shoes?

Thousands danced in the streets of Pyongyang (Korean for "noise of an elastic band") and the military hosted a gala, with song-and-dance numbers, while the country's equivalent of the Sex Pistols sang My Happiness is in the Bosom of the Respected General. Be still, my dancing feet.

Osama bin Laden celebrated his 50th birthday, laughing into his Diet Coke at news that Red Indians had been brought in to save the West. Top US military strategists deployed Sioux "Shadow Wolves" to track down the controversial terrorist in Afghanistan, making him feel safer than ever in his flat in Brixton.

Alan Johnston, a Scottish BBC journalist, was taken hostage by masked gunmen as he returned to his flat in Gaza City. A worrying silence followed. Eventually, his abductors were revealed as the Army of Islam, a gang feared for their ruthlessness. Worldwide protests followed the abduction.

Iran, meanwhile, seized 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf and accused Britain of "blatant aggression". The 15, including one burd, were taken at gunpoint in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Sounds painful. Their frigate, HMS Cornwall, had been searching a dodgy boat for smuggled motors. British diplomats, anxious not to upset the volatile loonies, adopted a moderate tone, but Tony Blair furiously told the regime its actions were "wrong". Rightly or wrongly, Leading Seaburd Faye Turney appeared on Iranian television to tell the world she and her colleagues had "trespassed" into Iranian waters and that her captors were "nice people", not loonies at all, which is what you or I would say in a similar situation.

Let's go further abroad for more insanity, right into ooter space, which Britain declared it was planning to invade. The latest adventure involved firing four darts at the Moon. Mission Moonlight could (ie, won't) be launched by 2010 and would supposedly see four suitcase-sized darts fired from an orbiting probe. The darts, carrying geological jiggery-pokery, would penetrate craters. Their mission: to send back information about the composition of the Moon's core. All together now: bo-ring.

When you put burdz into ooter space, one thing is guaranteed: they'll start fighting over the first available male astronaut. One spacewoman in Americashire disguised herself in a wig, hooded top and trenchcoat before blootering her love rival with pepper spray. The lassie also had a mallet in her car. It was lucky the incident took place on Earth. It wouldn't create the right impression with aliens if the first human they encountered was an angry burd with a mallet.

As a top commentator said at the time: "Going boldly where no burd has gone before is a noble idea. But, before putting it into practice, mankind must sort out the mystery of life on Earth. In other wurdz: burdz – the final frontier."

Back on Earth, the controversial planet's global capital, Perth, went up in everybody's estimation – again – after its Ann Summers shop closed due to lack of trade. The douce Perthites not only declined to have their libidos titillated, but condemned salacious window displays which encouraged lubricious behaviour.

Local resident Noreen Hickey tightened her chastity belt a notch and declared the Summers shop front an "affront", adding: "The advertising in their window has been of a suggestive nature." Roseanna Cunningham, the local MSP, sprayed reporters with Mace before announcing: "I couldn't see Perth as being fertile ground for that kind of shop."

There may be a place in life for priapic ephemera – but it is not on the boulevards of Perth.

In February, the nation rejoiced when charges of causing mayhem on a small aeroplane were dropped against Lord Fraser, the much-loved roly-poly peer who had overseen the mysteriously named Fraser Inquiry into costs at Holyrood. On the plane, at a small airstrip by the Tay, all his nibs had done was speak out politely when he was seated among the proletariat after paying for a posh seat. He wasn't drunk or anything, having inhaled merely one large whisky while his plane was delayed. However, he had wobbled in an alarming manner, and that was enough to make one of these notoriously panicky stewardesses start shouting the odds. Nowadays, you daren't even glance at these power-drunk prima donnas without risking immediate arrest and your picture in the papers.

Some say you're better travelling by train, but that wasn't easy when signallers went on strike for three days, prompting the usual "outrage" from latter-day patricians inconvenienced by the latest slave revolt. The fact that signallers earned more dosh than other proles added an extra falsetto note to the howling and wailing.

In such stressful times, religion can be a salve, but there was nought for our comfort from Pope Benedict XVI, who hollered from a pulpit: "Hell exists and there is eternal punishment for those who sin and do not repent!" Hmm, bummer. The pontiff pontificated: "The problem today is, society does not talk about Hell. It's as if it did not exist, but it does." Yes, what more evidence do you need? One churchgoer, who didn't wish to be named for fear of being tortured, said: "The Holy Father was really having a go."

Meanwhile, the smoking ban – on the planet Earth, I should stress; you can smoke all you like in Hell – proved embarrassing for the nation's fuming freemasons. They'd to stand outside their sinister halls with their trooser bottoms rolled up, trying to toke on fags through their goat's-head masks. One of the much-misunderstood weirdos confirmed they were embarrassed to be seen outside in their aprons. Commentators asked: "Well, why don't they come out for a fag after they've done the dishes?"

In grim news – grim news indeed – the Scotch Executive reportedly ordered dozens of inflatable tombs for citizens expected to peg out in the next big flu epidemic. Each inflatable mortuary could store 60 cadavers, though top pessimists believed 64,000 voters might shuffle off, if a new virulent strain of flu struck Scotia, Land of Snotters.

The move deepened distrust of the Executive, which was forever telling us to be more positive while, all the time, stocking up secretly on inflatable morgues. It also emerged that, with the degree of press scrutiny it suffers, the Executive hoped citizens would die in sufficient numbers to justify the expense.

Hangdog Hughie Henry, the education minister, did his bit by encouraging school pupils to eat oven chips five times a week. The Executive's own experts had recommended that deep-fried food, such as chips, should only be served in schools a maximum of three times a week. But Hangdog Hughie, from the west of Scotland, got round the advice by allowing kids chips five times – as long as they were oven chips. He did not specify whether the chips should be crinkle-cut or regular.

The soft southern government in London, meanwhile, promoted broccoli ahead of Brussels sprouts in its indice of items used to measure inflation. The Office for National Statistics said broccoli was now a more realistic indicator of consumer spending. Both vegetables come from the controversial cabbage family.

In 2007, Scotland kept up its reputation for having the worst record in the UK, and often in Europe, for illnesses and conditions covering most parts of the anatomy, not to mention the mind. New research showed Scots were twice as likely to suffer an alcohol-related death as people in the rest of the UK, with Glasgow topping the league on an impressive 83.7 deaths per 100,000.

Other figures showed the number of women dying from alcohol-related liver disease had more than doubled in eight years. Scotland also did well at suicide, with a study revealing that the rate in men had increased by 22 per cent and in women by 6 per cent. Suicide rates in Scotland were the highest in the UK, double those in England.

However, Scotland and England were united with the news that Britain was the worst place to grow up in the developed world. Research by UNICEF claimed the UK struggled with relative poverty and poor-quality relationships between children and their parents and peers. Yeah, yeah, whatever.

On a more optimistic note, it emerged that the rich were leaving Britainshire – something that wasn't supposed to happen until Scotland became independent. With anecdotal evidence suggesting the rich are lazy and evil and don't even pay their taxes, the development was welcomed up and, in some cases, down the country.

2007 at a glance

1 JANUARY: Seventeen years after the fall of Communism, Bulgaria and Romania join the European Union, an event which led to tens of thousands of people attending concerts in the two capital cities, Sofia and Bucharest.

2 JANUARY: Former US president Gerald Ford's state funeral takes place at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

3 JANUARY: Fourteen-year-old Michael Perham becomes the youngest person to sail single-handedly across the Atlantic Ocean, when he completes a six-week voyage from Gibraltar by docking in Antigua.

5 JANUARY: Australia beat England by ten wickets in the final Ashes Test match. The 5-0 whitewash is only the second in the history of the long-running series.

David Howell, 16, becomes the UK's youngest chess grandmaster.

6 JANUARY: The British Army raises its maximum recruitment age from 26 to 33.

8 JANUARY: An energy dispute between Russia and Belarus escalates when the Russian state-owned company, Transneft, stops pumping oil into the Druzhba pipeline which runs into Belarus because Belarus was siphoning the oil without mutual agreement.

9 JANUARY: John Reid, the then home secretary, below, was criticised after it emerged Britons who committed crimes abroad did not have their details registered on the Police National Computer.

Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, unveils the groundbreaking iPhone.

10 JANUARY: Two Squirrel helicopters collide at RAF Ternhill in Shropshire, killing one airman and injuring two others.

11 JANUARY: Iajuddin Ahmed, the president of Bangladesh, steps down as interim leader shortly after declaring a state of emergency.

13 JANUARY: Thousands of shoppers are left without any cash after a computer server wrongly decided they were acting fraudulently and caused ATMs across the UK to swallow their cards.

Ten former members of the Nazi SS are sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for their role in the worst mass slaughter in Italy during the Second World War, at Marzabotto.

15 JANUARY: Babel wins the Golden Globe Award, below, as best film drama of 2006.

16 JANUARY: The world's first genetically modified chickens are revealed to have been bred by scientists in Edinburgh. The birds lay eggs that supposedly can help fight cancer.

17 JANUARY: In an interview, David Cameron admits the Conservatives had failed Scotland by not offering a sensible centre-right alternative to Labour.

Protests occur in India and the UK against the Channel 4 show, Celebrity Big Brother, after contestants Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara were alleged to have been racially abusive towards the Bollywood star, Shilpa Shetty.

18 JANUARY: The strongest storm in the UK for 17 years kills 13 people. The storm, Kyrill, caused at least 44 deaths across 20 countries in western Europe, with 13 people dying in Germany.

19 JANUARY: The computer virus, Trojan Horse, infects thousands of computers, mostly home PCs, in Europe and the US.

Ruth Turner, a Downing Street political adviser, is arrested by police for questioning into the cash-for-honours allegations, before being released.

20 JANUARY: Hillary Clinton, wife of former president Bill, announces that she will be running for the White House.

22 JANUARY: A bombing in a market in Baghdad, Iraq, kills 88 people.

23 JANUARY: George Bush delivers his State of the Union Address, during which he reiterates his Iraq policies.

The pound hits a 14-year high against the US dollar and Japanese yen.

24 JANUARY: India and Russia agree jointly to develop fifth-generation stealth fighter jets.

25 JANUARY: 276 passengers and 28 crew on board the Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2 are hit by the Norovirus bug during a round-the-world trip.

26 JANUARY: Tesco opens its first own-brand supermarket branch in China.

Tony Blair is questioned by police investigating the cash-for-honours affair.

28 JANUARY: Around 250 militants are killed in Iraq in the Battle of Najaf.

Shilpa Shetty, below, wins the fifth series of Celebrity Big Brother.

29 JANUARY: Yone Minagawa, 114, of Japan, becomes the world's oldest living person.

30 JANUARY: About 2,000 Greek schoolchildren form a human chain around the Acropolis in Athens to demand that Britain returns the Elgin Marbles.

Stephen Purcell, the leader of Glasgow City Council, accuses the Scottish Government of displaying "lukewarm support" for the city's failed bid to host the UK's first Las Vegas-style casino.

31 JANUARY: The Venezuelan National Assembly gives president Hugo Chvez the power to rule by decree for 18 months.

1 FEBRUARY: Tony Blair is questioned again in the "cash for peerages" investigation.

JK Rowling announces the release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the record-breaking series.

2 FEBRUARY: The National Theatre of Scotland abandons its plans to base its new HQ in a deprived Glasgow housing scheme.

A 38-year-old policeman is killed in the Catania football clashes in Italy. Seventy-one people are taken to the hospital.

3 FEBRUARY: Tesco announces it has agreed to take over an entire Scottish town centre in Linwood, Renfrewshire.

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is found at a Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Suffolk.

A truck bombing in a crowded Baghdad market kills at least 135 people and injures a further 339.

4 FEBRUARY: At least 20 people are killed and 340,000 are made homeless by floods in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

5 FEBRUARY: George Bush submits a $2.9 trillion budget to the US Congress, including almost $700 billion in new military spending.

7 FEBRUARY: A letter bomb injures a woman working at the DVLA centre in south Wales.

8 FEBRUARY: Anna Nicole Smith is found dead in a Hollywood hotel room.

Heavy snowfall brings chaos to much of England and Wales.

10 FEBRUARY: US Senator Barack Obama of Illinois announces his presidential bid in Springfield, Illinois.

11 FEBRUARY: Vodafone, below, buys a 67 per cent stake in India's fourth largest mobile operator, Hutch Essar, for around 5.6 billion.

The Queen wins the BAFTA for Best Film of 2006.

12 FEBRUARY: An armed gunman kills five people at the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City, Utah, before being shot by police, bringing the evening's rampage death toll to six.

A German court orders the release of Brigitte Mohnhaupt, a former member of the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang. She had served 24 years in prison for her involvement in kidnappings and murders in the 1970s.

13 FEBRUARY: The TGV beats the record of the world's fastest conventional train after reaching a speed of 344mph during a test run.

14 FEBRUARY: The Arctic Monkeys are named Best British Group at the 2007 Brit Awards. Oasis pick up an award for outstanding contribution to music.

15 FEBRUARY: Al Gore announces plans for Live Earth concerts across seven continents to raise awareness of global warming.

Drinks giant Diageo announces it is to build the first large distillery in Scotland for 30 years as part of a 100 million investment programme aimed at boosting whisky production north of the Border.

The Hamas-led Palestinian government resigns to make way for a new administration.

17 FEBRUARY: Britney Spears, the pop star, controversially shaves her head.

18 FEBRUARY: US marine Robert Pennington is sentenced to eight years in military prison for his role in the killing of an Iraqi civilian.

20 FEBRUARY: It emerges that each of Holyrood's 129 MSPs charged the public purse an average of 75,700 for their travel, staff and office costs the year before.

Kraft Foods announces plans to close up to 20 factories and cut up to 8,000 jobs worldwide.

21 FEBRUARY: Romano Prodi tenders his resignation as prime minister of Italy.

23 FEBRUARY: Pakistan successfully tests a new version of its Shaheen II missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

An 84-year-old woman is killed and 22 others injured after a Glasgow-bound Virgin train derails in Grayrigg, Cumbria.

24 FEBRUARY: At least 39 people are killed and 61 injured as a car bomb explodes at a mosque in Iraq.

25 FEBRUARY: The 79th Academy Awards ceremony, right, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, takes place at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. The Departed wins Best Picture, while Dame Helen Mirren is named Best Actress for her lead role in The Queen.

26 FEBRUARY: The preliminary inquiry by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch into the Grayrigg rail crash finds that a key part of the set of points was missing.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, announces the deployment of an additional 1,400 troops to Afghanistan.

28 FEBRUARY: SMG breaks off merger talks with Ulster Television and appoints a new chief executive. Chris Masters, chairman of the Glasgow-based group which owns STV, and five other directors are ousted.

Airbus announces plans to cut 10,000 jobs across Europe in the next four years.

1 MARCH: International Polar Year, a $1.5 billion research programme to study both the North Pole and South Pole, is launched in Paris.

2 MARCH: Airbus announces that it will cease work indefinitely on the A380F freight aircraft.

The Attorney General for England and Wales, Lord Goldsmith, obtains an injunction from the High Court preventing the BBC from broadcasting an item about investigations into the cash-for-honours political scandal.

Liz Hurley, right, marries Arun Nayar in a secret civil ceremony.

4 MARCH: China raises its defence budget by 17.8 per cent.

A memorial service is held at St Mary's Church in Dover, Kent, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster.

5 MARCH: Ramush Haradinaj, the former prime minister of Kosovo, goes on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague for war crimes allegedly committed while he was a regional leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The US Mega Millions game sets a new world record for the highest lottery jackpot of 185 million.

6 MARCH: Two suicide bombers in a crowd of Muslim pilgrims in Iraq kill at least 115 people and wound 150.

Former Bush administration aide Lewis Libby is found guilty of perjury and the obstruction of justice.

7 MARCH: The Northern Ireland Assembly election is held.

A majority of MPs vote to support a fully elected House of Lords. A smaller majority support an 80 per cent elected, 20 per cent appointed, chamber.

8 MARCH: The People's Republic of China launches a property law designed to better protect individual rights.

9 MARCH: The US Coast Guard stages an exercise in Florida in preparation for a possible mass exodus from Cuba in the event of the death of Fidel Castro. During the drill, 40 Cuban exiles reach the US.

10 MARCH: More than 30,000 Sri Lankans flee intensified fighting between the government and the Tamil Tigers in the east of the country.

George Bush approves the deployment of 8,200 more US troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

11 MARCH: Leading opponents of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, including Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, and four other members of parliament and party activists, are arrested for defying a ban on protest rallies in Harare. Riot police shoot one activist dead.

The ninth Cricket World Cup gets under way in Jamaica.

12 MARCH: Alan Johnston, a BBC journalist, disappears in Gaza City.

Nigel Griffiths, an Edinburgh MP, resigns as the deputy leader of the House of Commons over the proposed expansion of the Trident missile system.

13 MARCH: Demonstrators in Mexico City clash with police as George Bush meets president Felipe Calder"n.

14 MARCH: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, long suspected as the mastermind of the 11 September attacks, confesses to them and a string of others in a closed military hearing held at Guantnamo Bay.

The trial against former media baron Conrad Black begins in Chicago. He is accused of defrauding Hollinger's shareholders of millions of dollars.

The UK government's plans to replace its nuclear missile system are saved by Tory MPs after 95 Labour rebels, and a majority of Scottish MPs, voted against the proposals.

15 MARCH: Researchers discover that the polar ice cap at Planum Australe, at the south pole of Mars, is thick enough to cover the planet with water if melted.

17 MARCH: It emerges that boardroom pay at the Royal Bank of Scotland more than doubled to upwards of 20 million, with the chief executive, Sir Fred Goodwin, paid 4 million in 2006 including a 2.8 million bonus.

Thousands of activists march to the Pentagon in Washington to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.

18 MARCH: Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan cricket coach, dies in a Jamaican hospital after his team's shock loss to Ireland and consequent early elimination from the Cricket World Cup.

Hibs win the League Cup with a 5-1 victory over Kilmarnock.

British Airways apologises for using first-class cabins as makeshift morgues, after the body of an economy class passenger flying from Delhi to London is strapped into a first-class seat.

19 MARCH: Winds of up to 100mph batter Scotland, with snow and sleet hitting the west coast.

The Supreme Court of the United States hears the case of Morse vs Frederick, in which an Alaskan high school student argues free-speech rights in connection with his displaying a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" in front of a Juneau high school.

20 MARCH: Jamaican police announce investigation into the death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer with suspicions that it was murder.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, orders the military to destroy cluster bombs that lack self-destruct mechanisms in order to avoid harming civilians.

21 MARCH: Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivers the Budget.

Sir Paul McCartney becomes the first artist to sign to Starbucks' record label.

22 MARCH: NATO troops launch two assaults in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, killing 38 Taleban terrorists. NATO suffers no casualties.

Jamaican police announce that Bob Woolmer, the coach of the Pakistan national cricket team, was murdered.

23 MARCH: Naval forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guard seize Royal Navy personnel in disputed Iran-Iraq waters.

24 MARCH: The government announces the withdrawal of all British armed forces serving as part of the European Union Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

26 MARCH: In Berlin, 27 European ministers celebrate the 50-year Treaty of Rome.

Alan Johnston, below, begins his third week in captivity.

27 MARCH: More than 90 people are burnt to death after a fire following a petrol spill in Nigeria.

A US court dismisses a case of alleged torture against the former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, brought by nine former prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

28 MARCH: The Scottish Rugby Union announces that Borders Reivers are to be disbanded at the end of the season because it is unrealistic to keep running three professional teams.

Gangs of youths riot in Paris with the violence centred on the Gare du Nord, one of the main railway stations.

29 MARCH: US defence secretary Robert Gates expresses support for those calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and moving dangerous inmates elsewhere.

30 MARCH: India's Anil Kumble, retires from One Day International cricket.