And the award goes to...
Some long-overdue recognition for our politicians and public figures.
It's been a busy year, between a pandemic, a Holyrood election, and endless variants of Tory sleaze. Plus fresh skirmishes in the culture wars and even some admirable outbreaks of courage and common sense. That makes it all the more imperative, in coming to review the year that was 2021, that we acknowledge the good, the bad and the barmy of politics and public life.
The 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Into There' Award
Winner: Nicola Sturgeon
After so many hours in front of the camera in 2020, TV's Nicola Sturgeon cut back on her broadcasting commitments in 2021. For some reason, the arrival of the Holyrood election campaign coincided with a reduced need for the First Minister’s essential Covid briefings. Truly, we may never understand how this virus works. It was a difficult time for BBC Scotland, which found itself with approximately 23 hours of its schedule to fill every day.
But lately Omicron has seen an uptick in Sturgeon's TV work and, in an exciting innovation, she even agrees to appear before the Scottish Parliament, sharing the spotlight with opposition MSPs despite their insistence on interrupting her Covid briefings with questions about Covid. Other performances in 2021 included a supporting role in the Alex Salmond inquiry, which involved the SNP members of the parliamentary committee supporting whatever Sturgeon said. It was a turn so memorable even the First Minister would struggle to forget it.
Worst MSP of the Year (or Any Other Year)
Winner: James Dornan
It’s hard to choose from James Dornan’s finest moments of 2021. There was the time he told Jacob Rees-Mogg, ‘If your god exists you will undoubtedly rot in hell’. Or the time he tweeted about a video appearing to show Rangers players using sectarian language, said he would ‘delete and apologise’ if it was false, then when the video was found to have been edited, declared ‘I’ve got nothing to apologise for’. But he wins for his attempt to link the early termination of a bus service in Edinburgh to discrimination against Irish Catholics. To think they wrote folk songs about Joe Hill and Nelson Mandela but Dornan’s activism has never been set to music. Not least when the Three Stooges theme is so catchy.
Social Event of the Year
Winner: Tory Christmas parties
They say the surest sign of ageing is noticing how much younger policemen are becoming but here's another: you've reached the stage when Tory politicians have a better social life than you. In the biggest scandal to hit Boris Johnson's government this year, or at least this month, Downing Street was revealed to have hosted a Christmas party in 2020 while the rest of the country was in lockdown. Photographic evidence of further gatherings, including drinks in the Number 10 garden featuring the PM himself, have fuelled public anger at the sense of one law for the powerful and another for the rest of us.
The Nick Clegg Award for Principle in Politics
Winner: Lorna Slater
The worst thing to come out of Canada since Celine Dion’s last album, Lorna Slater has become the public face of the post-election stitch up between the SNP and the Greens. She and Patrick Harvie became ministers as a result but it meant kicking into the long grass policies like a deposit return scheme and a moratorium on new incinerators. Such things may be popular with Green voters, but propping up the SNP is a more immediate priority for the separatists-posing-as-swampies. Slater's risible performances from the ministerial benches have done nothing to soften the blow. Still, this kind of sharp-elbowed cynicism is glorious to behold in pious lefties. It's not that Lorna Slater's principles aren't firmly held, it's just that ministerial promotion seems to work on them like political WD40.
Newcomer of the Year
Winner: Michael Marra
Marra had big shoes to fill when he was elected as a list MSP for North East Scotland in May. The same election saw his sister Jenny stand down after ten years representing the same region, during which time she gave the Public Audit Committee some much-needed teeth and was sometimes proposed as the woman to lead Scottish Labour out of its doldrums.
Happily, he has already proved to be a formidable scrutiniser of ministers, including the First Minister herself. Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to answer a recent Marra question on quantitative easing — ‘Nobody should think that they are good things, because the situations that make them necessary are not good things’ — was knuckle-chewing stuff, but he has been just as rigorous on Curriculum for Excellence and the impact of Covid on education.
Best Dramatic Performance in a Short Film
Winner: Humza Yousaf in Uneasy Rider
Not since Jimmy Carter was attacked by that swamp rabbit has a great political leader been so cruelly robbed of dignity. Humza Yousaf, relying on a knee-scooter after a badminton injury, took a tumble in September while racing in the direction of the Scottish Parliament debating chamber. The Health Secretary was pretty humourless about the incident at the time, scolding BBC Scotland's Glenn Campbell for tweeting a video of the incident, though those familiar with Holyrood noted that the corridor chosen by the media-friendly minister to show off his moves just so happened to be the one where the TV cameras are located.
Future First Minister Award
Winner: Susan Aitken
Between a cleansing crisis, striking bin men, and a string of media gaffes, Susan Aitken has done for Glasgow what Godzilla did for Tokyo. But in a sign of just how far she'll go, the SNP leader of Scotland's biggest council appeared before a Commons committee to lay the blame for her administration's failings squarely where it belonged: Margaret Thatcher. This facility for grievance-stoking makes Aitken the obvious winner of the Future First Minister Award, especially if the current First Minister is anything to go by. Aitken is one to watch. For safety's sake as much as anything.
Woman of the Year
Winner: JK Rowling
JK Rowling has been speaking out for women's rights for some time now, but 2021 saw perhaps the ultimate betrayal. The Scottish author was banished from the 20th anniversary Harry Potter reunion.
All this because Rowling has warned of the risks of replacing biological sex with a new concept of 'gender identity' that is self-identified and not medically verifiable. Rowling has not survived cancellation simply because she is fantastically wealthy (though it helps), but because it's actually quite difficult to convince normal people that the world's most beloved children's author is a bigot for believing that women are real. For this she has been accused of harming trans people, a despicable defamation that has not succeeded in silencing her as intended.
Rowling is not only Woman of the Year but an inspiration to everyone who believes in free speech and reason. At a time when so many politicians and national institutions have been too cowardly to speak out, it has fallen to a novelist to show some backbone. That she has done so while going out of her way to make clear to trans people that she harbours no ill will towards them, and merely disagrees with the ideology of hardline activists, is all the more commendable.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on December 27, 2021.
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