Like many other people, my thoughts in January turn to trying to predict the year ahead. It’s never an easy task of course, and one that exposes the writer to risk of later ridicule if he turns out to be well off the mark. But I’m going to assume that the world won’t end in 2012 as some believe and go for it anyway.
Let’s start with sport. Come May, there will be title celebrations in Glasgow and Manchester. That much is fairly obvious given that the titles on both sides of the border look very much like two horse races, but who will take the honours?
Celtic will lift the Scottish title. I know I’m not exactly a neutral observer, but I’m convinced that momentum lies with the green side of the city. Rangers’ financial problems will likely see a January weakening of their already stretched squad and a rather large tax bill expected sometime near the end of the season threatens the very existence of the club. Ally McCoist could go down in history as not only an unsuccessful Rangers manager, but also as the last Rangers manager, at least in its present form.
In England, City may be the favourites but I have a sneaking suspicion that the red side of Manchester might just be the ones to take the title. Come the business end of the season the great experience of Sir Alex in the home straight could be the difference between the two clubs.
Euro 2012 will see Spain seeking to win a third major title in succession and it is hard to see past them. The golden generation of Xabi, Iniesta et al has been all conquering so far and I’m backing them to do it again. The one Spanish weakness may be up front, with Villa injured and Torres off form, but goals in this side come from all over the park. The main challenge will come from a young and improving German side who play exciting football. England? The usual hype, exit and media recriminations for them.
The summer’s other big sporting event is the Olympics, which are being held in London. I added that last bit just in case anyone has managed to avoid every media outlet in the country for the past year and didn’t know that the games are coming to the UK. Look out for a torch procession coming to your town soon.
Home field advantage should mean a good medal haul, especially in the traditionally strong area of the sitting down sports – cycling, rowing, sailing and whatever they do on horseback. The UK will probably do less well in things that involve running and jumping. And it will be very interesting to see how a combined British football team does.
In the political world, David Cameron will hope for a feel good factor from the twin flag waving opportunities provided by the Olympics and by some anniversary relating to Elizabeth of Saxe Coburg and Gotha that involves parades and days off work.
Cameron will be praying that all the Union Jack photo opportunities he will no doubt find will keep people’s minds off other stories, like economic failure, rising unemployment, repeated attacks on the sick and the poor, creeping privatisation of the health service and xenophobic immigration policies.
What of the Lib Dems? Well, Clegg and co are rather stuck at present. They cannot pull out of the coalition as the party would be wiped out in an election. So they will remain locked with the Tories while trying to distance themselves from the more extreme actions of a government of which they are a part. Not a great position to be in – but one entirely of their own making.
Ed Miliband meanwhile will be trying to persuade the public to blame the current government for the mess it is making of things rather than continuing to lay all the problems at the door of the previous one. The economy is always the key issue and at the moment Cameron and co.’s policies are not working yet they retain a strong support in the country. If Labour can’t change this in 2012 they really are in trouble.
Talk is of an offensive that will portray the government as the party of the rich while Labour will present itself as the champions of the “squeezed” middle classes. Which begs the question, who speaks for the poor in British politics? With a battleground that looks like right against far right, where is the left wing?
And talking of right against further right, there will be a presidential election in the USA this year. While the reality of an Obama administration may not have lived up to the over hyped visions of milk and honey presented during the last campaign, the incumbent should win comfortably come November against whichever of the ragtag bunch of contenders the Republicans eventually choose as their candidate.
In Scotland, debate will concentrate on when the long promised SNP independence referendum will take place. Alec Salmond appears to favour the anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn in June 2014 – nothing like stirring it, is there? If he wants to recall a victory over the English, what’s wrong with Wembley in 1977?
Salmond knows that he does not have a majority in favour of independence but will gamble that he can build one over the next two years. Hopefully the debate will concentrate on the real issues of how an independent Scotland would be financed, defended and governed. This must not become a romantic discussion of some oil funded paradise where the sun will always shine and we can all wear kilts and eat shortbread to our hearts’ content. Hard questions will need to be answered if the people of Scotland are to make an informed choice rather than one based on emotional rhetoric.
Alex Salmond has secured a dominant position in Scottish politics at the moment and the job of leading the opposition now falls to my old friend Johann Lamont. She is an astute and experienced politician but has a massive job on her hands. The Labour Party in Scotland is at a low ebb and needs considerable work if it is to regain the trust of the Scottish people.
Scottish Labour has to realise that simply opposing David Cameron and Tory cuts is not the way to win votes in Scottish elections. The party must make a case that it can govern the nation better than the SNP can. It must develop a distinctive programme and sell it to Scotland. Labour cannot rely on gratitude for delivering devolution – it must show that it can make it work.
So those are my thoughts on 2012. A new age of enlightenment, as some interpretations of the Mayan prophesies suggest, seems unlikely. Another hard year of economic gloom, erratic weather and the occasional unexpected good news story is far more likely.
Enjoy 2012 everyone!