A hearty good riddance to the year when the world stopped

A look back at the year of the pandemic and other events which made headlines in 2020.

A hearty good riddance to the year when the world stopped Getty Images

Goodbye 2020 and a hearty good riddance to the year of the Covid pandemic. Long into the future when today’s children are grandparents they will retell the story of the time when among the anguish, life stopped.

Of course, the UK knew it was coming. We watched it start in Wuhan late in 2019 and then watched in horror at the pictures of intensive care wards in Italy. Then Spain. Then in our own hospitals.

This disease snaked its way from continent to continent bloating the statistics which both measured and camouflaged suffering. Most stories went untold. Those who did pay tribute to their loved ones put a face to the cold, impersonal nature of a nightly news graphic on the daily update.

An initial spirit of unity forged in adversity pretty quickly gave way to a restrained anger that this appeared to catch the government out. The definitive judgement on what went wrong will probably be the defining moment of 2022 or 2023, whenever the promised inquiry reports.

From the lack of personal protective equipment, to deaths in care homes, to the abandoning and then belated restart of testing, to the lateness of the initial lockdown, all will be laid bare. I bet we don’t know a fraction of the chaos that has gone on behind ministerial doors.

The communication messages, so vital in shaping behaviour have been more clearly articulated in Scotland. But the essence of the overall approach has been similar throughout the nations of the UK.

The economic cost in terms of debt waters the eyes and boggles the mind. 2020 has represented the fight for survival for many businesses. 2021 will be the year they go under. Mass unemployment is now all but inevitable and no politician can sugar coat that reality.

Without the pandemic, Brexit, that dominating issue of 2019, would have continued to strangle the news agenda. The UK has left the European Union in the biggest constitutional recalibration in generations. 

The ‘get Brexit done’ mantra propelled Boris Johnson to the Premiership and to a new electoral mandate. But it is another constitutional question that will now dominate in 2021. Can he hold the union together?

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In the aftermath of the 2014 referendum, supporters of independence said they would not seek another until the trend in the polls was unmistakable. Well, you now can’t find a poll pointing to a lead for the status quo.

May’s Holyrood election in all likelihood will see another SNP mandate for IndyRef2, a stand-off with Westminster and a full-blown crisis. Brexit has reshaped the landscape but its legacy may be the ending of more than one union. 

Covid also relegated coverage of Her Majesty’s Advocate v Alex Salmond. The former First Minister was acquitted of a long list of charges at the High Court back in March. 

Cleared by a criminal court and subject to a kangaroo court by the government he once led, some of the issues are still mired in a procedural and legal swamp. Mr Salmond he has not been able to have his full say but his rage at what he believes is a scandal and injustice will be aired eventually.

The parliamentary inquiry into how initial allegations were handled is yet to hear from both Mr Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. As to the consequences, who knows?

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Across the pond the reality TV president joined a band of commanders-in-chief who would serve only one term. When all of the toys had been hurled out of the White House pram following defeat to Joe Biden, he resorted to spraying writs like confetti to buttress unfounded claims of fraudulent voting.

‘The Donald’ is a man for whom the very notion of ‘We, The People’ is inconveniently framed in the plural. He will be gone by January’s end and with him a presidency which fashioned the chaos of a locked ward and tried to make it a template for governing.

2020 saw the passing of Sir Sean Connery. His was a full and extraordinary life. I interviewed him twice and have to report that he had absolutely no airs or graces. He carried himself with a commanding presence which was so evident in his work.

Farewell too to Johnny Beattie, an all-rounder of fantastic professional longevity who had wit, charm and ability that was only topped by his decency and humility.

STV was touched this year by the passing of revered friends. Our former Westminster correspondent Harry Smith is tinkling the crystal elsewhere, no doubt continuing to delight as he holds court with a glass of his favourite tipple.

Our first political editor and Radio Clyde founder Jimmy Gordon passed away, as did our resident election night guru, the peerless Professor Bill Miller. Both victims of the pandemic but both leaving behind impressive legacies that enriched and touched so many others.

Spectator sport closed for much of the year and fans have had to adjust to the eerie, surreal experience of watching on TV with a dubbed atmosphere.

In an otherwise grim time, the Scottish national side qualified for the 2021 European Football Championships. Let’s hope by the end of that we will not collectively seek solace in the view that it is the taking part that counts.

The closing of the 2019/20 domestic football season trumpeted a drama involving conspiracies, court cases and the kind of good-going rammy normally associated with the terraces rather than the corridors of power.

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The SPFL came under attack. In truth there was no solution on how to bring the season to an end in a way which suited and had the support of all member clubs. There was an inevitability to the end game in terms of winners and losers but only after somewhat shambolic procedures reduced ‘corporate governance’ to the narrative of a new Carry On movie.

In 2020 we applauded NHS staff. Captain Tom Moore invoked a wartime spirit to the business of civic responsibility and was knighted for his fundraising efforts. It was one of countless examples which proved how magnificent the human spirit can be when tested.

Bringing viewers the news has had its challenges and I think most broadcasters have done well in the tricky business of providing public information, holding power to account and showing how people are living lives being battered by uncertainty and tragedy

If Covid deaths have been the low point of 2020, then the vaccination programme is the great hope for the year ahead. 2020 has led to an appreciation of small things we take for granted, like going to the cinema. 2021 will be the year when we reacquaint ourselves with what we now can better appreciate.

In this adversity I have found people taking a greater interest in how their neighbours are doing, particularly if elderly and alone. With more time on our hands, many have volunteered to make life a little better for those less fortunate through charitable work

When the never ending bad temper of social media depresses I tell myself that’s only a fraction of people who are part of the collective. The good in people that makes them great has roared loud in 2020. That is something I will never forget in an otherwise depressing year.