Johnstone’s View - Looking back on 2014

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Well, here we are in the first days of 2015, and let me take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy New Year; a year which will struggle to match the peaks which characterised the last 12 months.

The year of 2014 will last in our memories for many reasons and each of us may take a different viewpoint on the significance of one event over another.

Nevertheless, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is clearly a moment which we in Scotland marked with significant resolve.

A visit to any local church will reveal the names, recorded for eternity, of those from each parish who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to defend their country and our freedoms at a time when there was little certainty in the world.

Because of the regimental system and the recruiting practices of the day, many of these young men, brothers in arms with a shared background, died on the same day or in the same battle.

Over the next four years we will commemorate individual events of the Great War, some of which will have a specifically Scottish relevance.

Last year will, however, also be remembered for the joy which the Commonwealth Games brought to Scotland and I think we all owe the City of Glasgow our thanks for the way they put Scotland on the map in such a joyous and positive way.

Perhaps because of the enormous, and for some unexpected, success of the London Olympics in 2012, the pressure was on Scotland to deliver something which would stand comparison.

While the scale and the budget of the event was rather smaller, that, if anything, only added to the pressure to succeed.

We were not disappointed. The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games were a spectacular success and Glasgow is rightly proud of the achievement.

Of course, the Commonwealth Games were not the only international sporting event to take place in Scotland this year, with the Ryder Cup being played for, and successfully defended, by the European team at Gleneagles.

Surprisingly, even Scotland’s weather was on its best behaviour for these two big sporting events.

The year of 2014 will, however, be remembered in Scotland’s history as the year when the people of Scotland were given the chance to vote for or against independence. There was no trick question, it was a simple yes or no.

There were no electoral trip-wires, no 40% rule, just a requirement for a simple majority of those who chose to cast their vote; 50% plus one vote.

In the end, after a great deal of hard campaigning on both sides, a decisive result emerged.

After 307 years, the people of Scotland had been asked to deliver a vote of confidence in the United Kingdom and their place within it, and that is exactly what they did. Britain will stay united.

There can be no doubt, after such a hard-fought contest, that feelings will continue to run high.

Some people have found the result hard to accept and others, following an old Scottish tradition perhaps, have begun to build the myth of the ‘glorious defeat’ around the event.

There was so much that was positive about the Referendum.

The engagement of so many in the political process with nearly 90% of the eligible electors turning out to vote.

The inclusion, for the first time, of 16 and 17-year-olds was a tremendous success and has now seen a cross-party commitment that they will be added to the franchise for the 2016 Scottish election.

And then there is the fact that the question of Scottish independence has now been put to the people, the question has been answered, and we will no longer have that unnecessary burden hanging over us in future.

The referendum has also delivered a process which will add considerable new powers to those already held by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.

The Smith Commission which has now published its report, and the legislative process which will now follow, will make Scotland its own master in a way which the majority of us can support.

On the negative side, however, the campaign created enormous division in Scotland, in communities and even within families.

That division has now, largely, been put behind us, with only a few diehards still waving the flag.

And remember, according to Alex Salmond’s own estimates of oil reserves and valuations, the last three months of declining oil prices have seen Scotland’s assets diminished by some eight hundred thousand million pounds. That thought alone will ensure that I, and many like me, will sleep easier in our beds, knowing that we are still part of the United Kingdom.

Happy New Year.