Page last updated at 21:16 GMT, Friday, 28 December 2007

A year when Salmond spawned new era

By John Knox
Political reporter, BBC Scotland

If I was a Chinese, I'd say this has been the "Year of the Wild Salmond".

Alex Salmond has leapt upstream and spawned a new Scotland.

We are not the same country we were just 12 months ago.

The SNP surprised everyone, even themselves, by winning the election on 3 May, or rather late on the 4th by the time we got around to counting most of the votes.

Alex Salmond wins the Holyrood election
The SNP surprised everyone by winning the election on 3 May

Since then, Alex Salmond has succeeded in walking on water, according to one German newspaper, and again surprising everyone, even Labour, by governing with a sure hand and performing well in the opinion polls.

The first 100 days saw a flurry of exciting announcements ... on abolishing bridge tolls, on scrapping the graduate charge, on saving two accident and emergency units, on recruiting 300 more teachers, on launching a "national conversation" about independence and the future.

Then there was the "concordat" with the local authorities which gave the SNP at least the prospect of a freeze in council tax and a new partnership between central government and local government to deliver other SNP pledges, such as smaller class sizes.

Then came the budget in November and everyone thought the SNP bandwagon would founder like King James IV at Flodden Field.

But with due diligence, John Swinney, the finance secretary, was able to blame London for the "smallest rise in the Scottish block grant since devolution".

Action to alleviate student debt was then postponed.

Not that easy

The opposition parties began to accuse the SNP of breaking their promises over police numbers and grants for first time house buyers.

But the health secretary Nicola Sturgeon went marching on, announcing plans to abolish prescription charges, increase the payments for free personal care and cut hospital waiting times to 18 weeks.

Labour was left struggling. They lost Jack McConnell to his beloved Malawi projects and found Wendy Alexander.

It was all rather like losing Tony Blair to the Middle East and finding Gordon Brown.

The new leaders have discovered that the top job is not that easy.

Both had elections that never were. Both got caught up in donor intrigue.

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander was caught up in donor intrigue

The Liberal Democrats too have found a new leader at Westminster and are wondering how to join in Nick Clegg's new "peoples politics".

Isn't that what they've always tried to do?

Nicol Stephen has been harder on Alex Salmond than anyone really expected of a gentleman.

But that allegation of "sleaze" over the Trump golf course was the only sign that Mr Salmond can sometimes stumble.

The Liberals reckon if they can reduce Gordon Brown from "Stalin to Mr Bean" at Westminster, they can reduce Alex Salmond from "Tiger to Tigger" in Scotland.

Scottish auntie

The Conservatives have played a steady game under Annabel Goldie.

David Cameron has been up to see his "favourite Scottish auntie" on a monthly basis and has not interfered once.

She has steered the Conservatives, indeed all the opposition parties, towards an alternative "conversation" on increased powers for the Scottish Parliament, "devolution phase two", as she calls it.

The Greens are down to a tree stump of two, from seven MSPs before the election.

And the Socialists have fallen from six to zero and into the slough of despond over the Tommy Sheridan's court case.

The Queen led a "common riding" into the parliament on 30 June.

But almost as the presiding officer Alex Fergusson was telling his funny story about how his father, preaching at Crathie Church a generation ago, dropped his sermon notes over the edge of the pulpit, disaster was striking at Glasgow Airport.

james McFadden
James McFadden's goal secured a Scotland victory against France

It was just one of many outside events that have buffeted political life in Scotland this year.

The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has sent more Scottish soldiers home to be buried.

The foot-and-mouth crisis in Surrey dealt another unfair blow to our farmers.

The meltdown in the world banking system has made credit harder to get.

And we've followed events in the Middle East through the eyes of Scots hostage Alan Johnston.

In sport, it's been a tale of two cities, the best of times and the worst of times.

We beat France at football, almost beat Italy and then lost our manager.

We may lose out on money to the London Olympics in 2012 but Glasgow will stage the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

In culture, Leon Jackson from Whitburn won the X Factor and J.K Rowling brought out her last triumphant Harry Potter book.

We found the Lady with the Yarnwinder.

I know the Chinese New Year doesn't begin until 7 February but if this has been the year of the Wild Salmond, then might I suggest we have a quieter year, the Year of the Humble Bee.

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