Michael Russell MSP Scottish Brexit Secretary

The National:

THE other day I looked up the origin of the word “Brexit”. It was first used on May 15, 2012, in a blog written by an English academic.

He modified the term “Grexit” – much in vogue at the time when the possibility of Greece failing out of the EU because of its financial crisis was in the news – and applied it to what appeared then to be a very fringe campaign to get the UK out of Europe.

What a difference six years makes. Brexit dominates UK and Scottish politics like no other issue in my political lifetime. I find it hard to think of a time when it didn’t also dominate my life, as it certainly has during the past year.

READ MORE: Support for Scottish independence is increasing ahead of Brexit showdown

I still don’t think that leaving the EU is inevitable so I suppose the high point of my year is still going on – the need to derail the appalling deal that Theresa May brought back from Brussels and to ensure that neither it, or the even worse “no deal” option, ever get enough traction and MPs votes to take place. Hope still exists and whilst it does we should not only cling to it, but pump it up and spread it around.

Because, providing the opposition parties work together – at Holyrood and Westminster – as we enter the New Year then a second referendum or an election remain not only possible but likely.

And if Labour can be brought to realise that their own supporters no longer want Brexit, even if some of them did at one time, then that would accelerate the move away from disaster.

There have been lots of low points in the Brexit year too, of course. Some have been the long meetings in Whitehall where nothing is decided, nothing is revealed, and nothing is done to respect what should be the reality of devolution in which there is no hierarchy of governments, only of Parliaments.

Others have been experienced in gatherings of EU nationals and hearing of their agony as they try to secure their future in a country which they thought was their long-term home.

And of course it is always a low point when, in the Parliament, I have to witness the aggressive, arrogant negativity of the Scottish Tories who, the more they realise they are in the wrong, the more they spin, bluster and lie about what this country faces as a result of their party’s incompetent and shameful conduct. It has been embarrassing but also infuriating to watch people who should be representing Scotland instead scrabbling to defend only their party south of the Border, letting the interests of their constituents and their country go hang.

But there is life beyond Brexit, surprising as that may seem. Life in Argyll and Bute, working as the constituency’s MSP is always stimulating and enjoyable, particularly given the beautiful surroundings and the great team who work with me.

I can still relax from time to time with family, friends, cats, dogs, the garden, music and books (it is always vital to find time for them all, no matter how brief) and this year I have discovered at least one new (to me) composer (Emilie Mayer is particularly wonderful) and the delights of historic detective fiction as a complete switch-off.

Thank goodness Susanna Gregory and Paul Doherty have written such an amazing amount.

Finally a daily highpoint is The National. I read a great deal of journalism and commentary, filtering out much of the inbuilt bias and hostility towards Scottish self determination and a government which, though not perfect of course, has worked hard for the Scottish people for an incredible 12 years come May.

The National gives me a perspective I understand – that of a normal nation, trying to make its way in the world.

The real high will come when we finally achieve that.

Kirsty Hughes, Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations

The National:

MY high point for 2018 is the growing support for having another vote on Brexit, led by the People’s Vote campaign – which Nicola Sturgeon announced her support for in October, backed by an SNP conference resolution. Too many people – Remainers as well as Leavers – have thought Brexit could not be stopped. But with over half the UK now backing Remain according to many polls, it’s time there was a political lead for that option (even while Labour still fudges the issue).

READ MORE: SNP MPs would support 'people's vote', says Sturgeon

My low point for 2018 is Theresa May postponing the December 11 vote on her Brexit deal at the last possible moment. Her deal was indeed set to be voted down. But refusing to let Westminster express its view after days of debate, and so continuing to stall and hinder resolution of the deep political crisis the UK is in over Brexit, is deeply politically irresponsible. In EU capitals, there had been hope that once Westminster rejected May’s deal, the UK might move on to choose between a “soft” Brexit and another EU referendum. Instead, the UK remains stuck in its Brexit groundhog day, as the March 29, 2019, deadline approaches.

Stuart Cosgrove, Journalist, broadcaster and Sunday National columnist

The National:

COMPILATIONS are a mixed blessing, especially in soul music and Scottish poetry. Sometimes they are a hurriedly rushed assembly of already over-familiar content, but at their very best they become essential recommendations, an album or a book that you wish had always been on your shelves.

One standout compilation in 2018 was Maxine Brown: The Best of the Wand Years (CD and download). It’s a homage to the great New York-based soul singer Maxine Brown, one of the cruelly overlooked talents of the 1960s. Publishers Ace Records, the doyens of the soul compilation, describe it as “a stylish vinyl collection of Maxine’s finest Wand recordings, including a trio of 60s soul stompers discovered in the tape vaults in the 80s”.

Maxine’s golden period on the independent label Wand included her signature hit Oh No, Not My Baby and emotionally-charged ballads such as Gotta Find A Way and It’s Gonna Be Alright. Her rare soul anthem One In A Million still has classic status in the underground soul scene, despite not selling enough to chart in the USA at the time of its release.

READ MORE: Soul music went from pirate radio to streaming – but it's still misunderstood

For those who like an extra layer of social context, the label’s owner was the remarkable Florence Greenberg, a Republican campaign worker and suburban housewife, who became so bored with a humdrum home life that she chose to launch a record label to bring unknown African American singers to prominence.

Her mission inevitably brought her closer to the civil rights movement and to a political transformation of sorts. Wand Records made annual gifts to Dr Martin Luther King’s campaigns to aid voter registration in the Deep South.

From the Deep South to Scotland, A Gathering: A Personal Anthology of Scottish Poems edited by Alexander McCall Smith and published by Polygon, is soul in a very different sense, a collection of some of the best poetry ever written in Scotland.

The book is a wonderful journey through places, politics and emotions. It begins with a very accessible Scots language poem about haunted love, Some Ghaists Haunt Hooses. It has lyricism derived from the legacy of the great medievalists Henryson and Dunbar, but curiously follows the same emotional metaphors as the northern soul classic R. Dean Taylor’s There’s A Ghost In My House.

McCall Smith’s compilation inevitably finds room for Burns, Norman McCaig, Edwin Muir and Hamish Henderson but my favourite re-encounter was with the Perth bard William Souter’s and his short poem, The Winters Awa, a fleeting moment on a snowy hillside that in different eras we had both trudged on our way to school. Poetry has a unique capacity to trigger moments of memory that had lain buried for years; soul music can soothe the memories like faith.

Joanna Cherry, MP

The National:

MY political highs and lows of 2018 revolve around Brexit. This was the year when it became clear that Westminster is unable or unwilling to work in Scotland’s interests.

The power grab in the EU Withdrawal Act, the fact that Westminster ignored the Scottish Parliament’s withheld legislative consent and the fact that the derisory 19 minutes afforded for Scottish MPs to debate HL amendments on the devolved aspects of the bill were all taken up by a Tory Government minister were really just the pits.

The flip side of all that was that the case for independence became even stronger and that remains the case even if Brexit does not happen. Never again can anyone take seriously the lie that Holyrood is the most powerful devolved parliament in the world.

On the upside, although there have not been many wins for Scotland in the Brexit process, there were two huge wins for Scotland in the courts and they both came in the last month of the year.

My high points were the success of myself and my SNP, Scottish Green and Labour colleagues in persuading the CJEU to rule that Article 50 could be unilaterally revoked.

READ MORE: Big win for Scotland's Super Six as ECJ says Article 50 can be withdrawn

It was a particular joy in the week before Xmas to see this decision rubber stamped by Scotland’s Supreme Court and to receive an award of expenses against the UK Government who fought tooth and nail using taxpayer’s money to keep MPs and the public in the dark.

Just a few days after Luxembourg’s ruling the judgment of the UK Supreme Court in the Continuity Bill case confirmed what the UK Government had tried so hard to deny – that Brexit is being used as power grab against the Scottish Parliament.

When it passed the Bill all but one section was constitutional, and it was only because the UK Government changed the rules in the Lords that several other parts of the Bill became ultra vires.

READ MORE: Continuity Bill within Holyrood's powers – until UK 'changed the rules'

The Tories, including Mundell, Tomkins and the PM, were revealed as having been very economical with the truth and Scotland’s Lord Advocate’s legal advice was vindicated.

Mike Small, Bella Caledonia

2018 was the year of “the People”. I blame Princess Diana. Way back in 1997 we were introduced to the slightly sickly non-sequitor of “the People’s Princess”.

Fast-forward to 2018 and we had the equally stupid concept of “the Feminist Princess” as Prince Harry married the US actress Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle.

Britain fawned and ogled and doffed its cap and pretended that this was really different and really important and a sign of change.

READ MORE: Here is conclusive proof Scotland REALLY doesn't care about the Royal baby

Later in the year we had TV coverage that the Princess had caused an outrage by breaking with etiquette and opening her own car door.

“The People” have been elevated to a status I’m not sure we deserve.

Alongside the People’s Princess we now have the People’s Vote, a concoction contrived to try and over-turn the monumental stupidity of “the People” the last time they voted.

Across the world this new populism is breaking out.

Over in America a segment on Fox and Friends called on Trump voters to each give $80 to fund The Wall.

A People’s Wall to keep out Other People makes about as much sense as a People’s Princess or anything else of the catastrophic lunacy that sweeps over us like a tsunami of stupidity.

Get us out of here.

Eddi Reader, Musician

The National:

BETWEEN January and May 2018 I had the result of the 2017 sessions at Gloworm Studios in Glasgow to edit, overdub, compile and mix. My new album was being born through those months in early spring 2018.

When I had finished the process, this would be my first studio recording in four years. There was an idea that I could make two albums; a traditional album and a more contemporary album. So I went along with that idea but, by the end of March 2018, I realised I had a double album called Cavalier.

READ MORE: Eddi Reader: 10 things that changed my life

A highlight of that January 2018 was playing at a Burns night in Dumfries. Robert Burns has become an old companion and I worship the grounds he walked upon.

As I moved into February I usually play a tour in Ireland with John Douglas, Boo Hewerdine, Alan Kelly, Kevin McGuire and our amazing sound man Big Joe Thomas. We have worked together all over the world.

I was on the road again in May, playing in England and Wales. During that tour I delivered the album Cavalier at the last minute on May 15, 2018.

In the downtime from my musical life I’m a bit of a hausfrau. Throughout June and July I cooked, cleaned and repaired my old house. The bricks of my house have seen it all. So has Glasgow.

I love to delve into Glasgow’s revolutionary history. Still alive and kicking on social media it seems. I debate Scottish Independence on twitter and enjoy the opportunities to do so.

In August I played with Blue Rose Code, the weather was so hot we sang in the garden to practice for their gig at Cottiers theatre. The gig was called Caledonian Soul and we are about to repeat it at the 2019 Celtic Connections festival on January 19.

September found me and husband John Douglas joining the Alan Kelly Gang tour of Ireland. On September 28, 2018, I officially released Cavalier. I will tour it all through spring 2019 and launch it at my Celtic Connections gig which is on January 30, 2019.

The highlights of October 2018 included recording some old revolutionary songs for a television show

In November 2018 me and the lads went on a small tour of England and I was lucky to be asked to film the Quay sessions for Roddy Hart and BBC Scotland.

In December 2018 I joined in with Social Bite’s Sleep In The Park.

My year ends in the last two weeks of December 2018. You will find me in a cottage on a bonny castle estate in South Queensferry, I am around a cosy fire with Karen Matheson of Capercallie, Kris Drever, Ian Carr, Kevin McGuire and John McCusker. Christmas is everywhere. We are practicing songs to prepare for our Christmas tour in Scotland.

Maureen Beattie, Actress

The National:

I TURNED 65 this year so my first highlight is the regular payback I’m now getting from all those years of National Insurance contributions in the form of my government pension. Had to wait quite a bit longer than I had originally been led to believe of course, but hey – sic transit Gloria Swanson, as my dad used to say.

I became president of Equity, the entertainment industry union, in July and I find many of my highs and lows are now inextricably linked to the welfare of our members. I am particularly proud of the difference our Agenda for Change and Safe Spaces campaign is making in the fight against bullying and harassment in our industry.

I think of those courageous young female gymnasts, including the astonishing Simone Biles, who testified against Larry Nassar, the coach who had sexually abused the young women in his charge for decades, and who will now spend the rest of his life in gaol.

I also think of the long hard nights of soul searching Christine Blasey Ford must have gone through before coming forward to add her voice to those of the two other women who accused Brett Kavanagh of sexual assault in the run-up to his election as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, where he now sits. I’m sure you can tell which of these was a high and which was a low point.

Arrgh! Brexit shenanigans. I am Scottish and I live in London – neither of my heartlands wants this.

Donald Trump is STILL president of the US. Food banks, food banks, food banks – austerity for the poor, riches for the rich. Shame on all their self-serving heads.

I was deeply honoured to receive an Outstanding Woman of Scotland Award from The Saltire Society this year. I find myself in the company of extraordinary women who fill me with hope and inspiration for 2019.