Saturday, 31 December 2011

My predictions for 2012

So, that was the year that was. It started off moderately well for the Liberal Democrats with a reasonable outcome in the Oldham & Saddleworth by-election, with Tim Farron telling us all that the result showed how unwise it was to write off the Liberal Democrats as a spent electoral force. Unfortunately that was followed by some disastrous by-elections in Barnsley and Inverclyde and a collapse of stunning proportions in the Holyrood elections. And things haven't got a great deal better since, although there have been some indications of the party's willingness to assert itself in coalition on such issues as the NHS, green energy, the proposed tax break for married people and Europe.

It's tough in coalition, as Nick Clegg's grittily realistic New Year message attests. No-one ever suggested it would be anything other, but it's clearly a lot harder for the minor partner than it is for the larger. Here in Scotland, we've taken a particular battering on a greater scale than I imagined when I wrote (in May 2010) that: "from a purely Scottish perspective, identifying ourselves with a Conservative Party which has virtually no electoral base and remains widely mistrusted could prove to be an electoral liability. The old questions of the Tories’ electoral legitimacy in Scotland and the perceived 'democratic deficit' may re-emerge with potential to damage the Scottish Liberal Democrats." I think at the time there were many who disagreed with such an assessment of our electoral prospects; there aren't too many who'd take issue with it now.

I tried my hand at making a few other predictions last year, some of which were less accurate than that above. As it's that time of year again, I've dug out the crystal ball to have another go at foretelling how the year is going to pan out:


The Liberal Democrats

* The local elections will see significant Lib Dem losses, although it is the Tories and the SNP who are best placed to capitalise. Nick Clegg will remain defiant and insist that if only we keep on telling voters how much we're doing in government, they'll eventually reward us.

* Tim Farron's star will continue to rise and he will increasingly be seen as the voice of the grassroots and the party's conscience. Tim will always have a word for anyone, especially representatives of the media who won't believe any of his denials that he's grooming himself to be Nick Clegg's eventual successor.

* Ed Davey will become more visible and will develop his reputation as being a sensible although radical thinker in the heart of government.

* 2012 will see a growth in the influence of the Social Liberal Forum and Evan Harris in particular. Despite accusations of being "a party within a party", the SLF will continue to articulate the kind of centre-left policies many members continue to identify closely with, much to the private disgust of Nick Clegg.

* Here in Scotland, Willie Rennie will become more positive in his approach and less adversarial towards the SNP. Like most Scottish Lib Dems though, he will continue to suffer from Tourette's Syndrome whenever the word "independence" is whispered. The public - or at least the handful who religiously watch FMQs on the Parliament channel - will gradually begin to warm to his performances in Holyrood, which will provide relief from the tribal battle between the SNP and Labour front benches. He will gain credibility from focusing his energies on education, the youth contract and tackling unemployment - and from people finally realising that he has a sense of humour. This won't stop much of the media from continuing to perceive him as something of an irrelevance.

* Rennie will dismiss poor results in the local elections as merely the inevitable effect of the Westminster coalition. Nick Clegg will remain unrepentant, reminding us all that if only we keep on telling voters how much we're doing for Scotland in government, they'll eventually reward us.

The Conservative Party

* Right-wing Conservatives will sense they have their leader on the back foot after the recent European debacle. They will up the pressure on Cameron to continue to pander to their less than progressive whims and unreasonable designs, with limited success. Expect Cameron to reinforce his own party's identity in coalition and Tory MPs to berate the role of Liberal Democrats as a negative force.

* George Osborne will be forced on the defensive over the government's austerity programme but will refuse to consider alternative plans, even in the face of evidence to suggest they might actually work more effectively.

* The Tory vote will hold up well in local elections, which will mistakenly be interpreted as approval of the government's policy direction.

* Ruth Davidson will struggle to adapt to her new role as Scottish Tory leader, but will have an enormous impact on the continuing independence debate.

The Labour Party

* Labour will continue to struggle, with Ed Miliband in particular demonstrating an inability to come to terms with opposition.

* Ed Balls will prove effective at probing the limitations of George Osborne's fiscal plans, but will struggle to champion any cogent ideas of his own.

* Chuka Umunna will demonstrate his enormous value to the Labour Party in a string of skirmishes with Vince Cable in which his leadership potential will become obvious to everyone, including the fearful Ed Miliband. Cue plenty of unsettling talk about replacing the current leader.

* Johann Lamont will start slowly but will emerge as a capable debater (especially in FMQs) and will advocate a stronger emphasis on equality, both of which will set her apart from her predecessor.

The Scottish National Party

* Even Willie Rennie admits that Alex Salmond has had a fantastic year. So good in fact, that things can't really get any better. And they won't. But as the most respected politician in Scotland by some distance and arguably the most able communicator in Holyrood, Salmond will continue to enjoy high public approval ratings and his party will make gains in the local elections, at the expense of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

* Other SNP ministers, most notably Sturgeon, Russell and Ewing will have a successful year. Swinney will find the going tougher but his Budget, which will include welcome action to tackle unemployment and increase investment in green energy, will be supported by the Greens and Liberal Democrats. And cynically opposed by Labour, in spite of them being in agreement with 90% of it.

* Support will not necessarily rise for independence, but as support for the SNP itself shows no sign of waning, confidence in the party's ranks that it will win a referendum appear more than justified. Opposition parties sense the danger and intervene with misguided attacks on the SNP leadership, thus boosting the prospect of a "Yes" vote.

* The SNP will show leadership on equality and will decide in favour of introducing equal marriage. This move will be supported by all parties in Holyrood other than the Tories who, despite having an openly gay leader, still aren't overly comfortable with LGBT rights and retain a telling silence on the matter. Equal marriage will be generally welcomed, although a few senior Roman Catholic clergy, the Wee Frees, the Christian Institute, Willie Rennie's interns, MSPs John Mason and Bill Wilson - and, of course, Dame Brian Souter - will form an unlikely coalition and ensure that for several weeks after the announcement the Scottish press is pre-occupied with reporting the backward-looking attitudes of a self-appointed "moral majority", embarrassing Scotland in the process. The media will rub their hands with glee in anticipation of a breakaway Church of Scottish Homophobes, which never comes into being.

* As the SNP would like, the political debate in Scotland becomes increasingly constricted around the question of independence. Unfortunately for the SNP, this also coincides with a public appetite for a referendum to determine Scotland's future in the EU, which the party are less happy to offer.


* The "Arab Spring" proves to be optimistically named. Democracy in Egypt returns a government not overly friendly towards democratic principles and determined to impose its opposition to western "carnality". It will outlaw alcohol, bikinis and generally having fun, thus in an instant destroying the Egyptian tourist industry and ruining the economy. Economic pressures lead to expressions of discontent, which meet the predictably heavy-handed response. Meanwhile in Syria, President Assad finally succumbs to international and internal pressure and quits, only to be replaced by a "transitional government" made up of Ba'ath Party allies and the military.

* The Euro will survive - for the time being. Bulgaria will join the Euro later in the year and at a vastly inflated rate which will eventually prove to be its undoing. The technocratic governments of Greece and Italy do what they were designed to do in the short term but have no long-term answer to dealing with Europe's debt problem. Bizarrely, the East African nations of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi rate the Euro so highly want to replicate its "success" and will launch a new single currency for the East African Community mid-way through the year.

* France will elect Francois Hollande to replace Nicolas Sarkozy as President.

* North Korean premier Kim Jong-un will prove himself a worthy successor to his father and grandfather and will behave in an similarly erratic and irresponsible manner, only more so. Anxious to make a name for himself on the international stage, Kim is keen to play up his nuclear capability and makes thinly veiled threats towards his Southern neighbours.

* The US Presidential will be the closest run and the toughest to call since Truman defeated Dewey. The Republicans select Mitt Romney from an admittedly limited pool of talent, who proves himself to be a safer pair of hands than some feared. Whatever the outcome, the rest of the world breathes a collective sigh of relief that Sarah Palin didn't run.


* St Mirren will finish a barely believable and thoroughly creditable 7th in the SPL, with Morton putting together a good run at the end of the season to finish 4th in Division 1. Celtic will win the SPL, as well as the League Cup beating Kilmarnock in the final. My own Albion Rovers will miss out on the play-offs. In England, Manchester United will have the experience that matters at the business end of the season giving them a record-breaking 20th title; Alex Ferguson still won't retire.

* Euro 2012 proves a disappointment, although Scottish fans will enjoy watching England losing to Italy in the second round. Russia will lose to Germany in the final, after which they complain about the facilities, the refereeing and Ukrainian nationalism.


* The Olympics will be a huge success for the GB team. They will do well in athletics, rowing, sailing, swimming and diving. They will do less well in the beach volleyball, but it will be fun watching them try.

* Unfortunately, the games will bring a lesser economic benefit to the country than the public were led to believe. Lacking the kind of foresight possessed by that of the organisers of the games in Barcelona or Sydney, the GB Olympics' lasting legacy is a couple of London football clubs arguing about who uses the stadium.

* However, the most lasting memory will be mayor Boris Johnson fumbling through a typically disjointed speech at the closing ceremony during which he slips on the wet grass while demonstrating the British origins of synchronised swimming, suffering a fracture to his collarbone and having to be carried off to an ambulance, which doesn't arrive for 30 minutes as it's stuck in traffic around the Elephant & Castle.

In lighter vein...

* A number of political scandals will rock Westminster, including a Tory MP having a string of affairs, a Labour frontbencher hailing the Thatcher legacy and a Lib Dem admitting that he's not gay.

* The Liberal Democrats' electoral fortunes will pick up slightly, with a creditable third place in a by-election in which they come ahead of the BNP, UKIP, the Monster Raving Loony Party and the National Liberal Party which, ironically enough, is campaigning against what it perceives as a merger of the Tories and Lib Dems. The Monster Raving Loony candidate will save his deposit, campaigning with the slogan "The only Tory of any use is a lava-tory".

* Theresa May will propose constructing an electric fence around Britain's coastline to keep out both immigrants and any pet cats they bring along with them.

* Jo Swinson's Real Women campaign will be so effective in championing body confidence and challenging stereotypical perceptions of beauty that the "in" thing for fashionable models to do will be to pile on the pounds. Katie Price gets in on the act, opting for a breast reduction to reveal the extent of her "new tummy". Such is the change of culture, a size-12 Glaswegian teenager will win X-factor and will court controversy posing nude for the cover of Playboy as she's considered "too thin" to be a model.

* I will get round to having the washing machine repaired. Eventually.


Nic said...

I so hope the Boris Johnson one comes true.

Andrew said...

So do I! In fairness though, it's not one of the more likely predictions to be fulfilled!

Gedguy said...

Where do I start, after I finish laughing?
It's too early in the year to be political so I'll just say that I think you may be more right than you you hope you will be.
But just one little parting shot. I think the British public will come to learn that the country has already been in a depression for a couple of years. Who ever believes in UK treasury figures? The real Tory policies will start to bite into the economy but, and I don't like saying this, what other choice do we have when the whole of the western world's economy is crashing around us. The UK is not geared up, yet, to ride out this coming economic storm and, as the SNP are praying for, the UK economy is going to dive even further than what it is now.
Apart from that everything is fine. C'est la vie.

Andrew said...

Thanks Gedguy.

There are serious challenges facing the British economy. I am not convinced that means there are no choices that can still be made. Actually, I think changing course now would have the effect of destabilising the economy, but that admittedly might only be a temporary issue if Plan A can be replaced with something better equipped to deal with the pending reality (which George Osborne plainly failed to foresee in late 2010 when he announced his emergency budget). I agree that the public will accept the truth and gravity of the situation but not necessarily the proposed remedy unless it is at the very least reconsidered and tailored towards meeting the demands of the evolving challenge. Already we're living in a different world - economically speaking - to the one the coalition inherited from Labour.

Of course the European economy is falling down around us and all our PM could do to help the situation was attempt to negotiate special terms for the City of London. Hardly suggestive of a government possessing creative ideas.

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