From bus drivers to sporting greats... Scotland's heroes of 2018.

It was just another Wednesday and Charmaine Laurie just another driver with the Beast from the East storm on her mind when she turned up for her shift at Lothian Buses on February 28. But by mid-afternoon the 45-year-old mother of two was a hero, having swerved her bus in heavy snow to avoid, by a matter of feet, a Mini which had skidded onto the wrong side of the road in Edinburgh’s high-lying Fairmilehead district. The exact time, if you want it, was 24 minutes and three seconds past one o’clock. 

We know because watching the whole thing unfold on Frogston Road in the south of the city was van driver Gareth Smith, and he happened to catch it all in his dashcam.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! No!” he shouts as the bus with its cool-as-a-cucumber driver and 20 passenger cargo slaloms sweetly past the stricken Mini and his own van. Composure returned to him, Mr Smith then did what anyone would in that situation – uploaded the footage to Facebook where, inevitably, it viral. And before you could say “Lucky number 11 bus”, Ms Laurie found herself on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme talking about her heroics.

“I just saw through the snow the car U-turn in front of me, so I didn't have much time to react,” she said. “I tried to brake but my back end started to slide out, so I had to take my foot off the brake and just try and glide through the space that was there. A lot of it’s just instinct but we’re trained to be aware of these situations,” she added. “That's why I didn't brake heavily.”

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was plenty impressed by the manoeuvre too. A few days later she dropped into Lothian Buses’ Edinburgh HQ, ostensibly to launch an apprenticeship awareness week though she made sure she had time for a chat with Ms Laurie. “Pleasure to meet Charmaine this morning,” she tweeted afterwards, “and say thank you to her and everyone across Scotland – emergency/essential services staff, transport workers, the military, volunteers, the public and many others – for the heroic response to the Beast From The East”.

But the best bit of the story is what happened when Ms Laurie’s husband Andrew picked her up from work at the end of her shift. Naturally he’d seen the footage but didn’t realise then who the driver was, so he told his wife all about it. She sat and listened and finally said: “Funnily enough, something like that happened to me”.

It’s not entirely down to Philip Long’s efforts that The Wall Street Journal named Dundee “Scotland’s coolest city” or magazine National Geographic Traveller listed it as one of the must-visit places for 2019. But as director of the city’s totemic V&A Museum of Design – opened with great fanfare on September 15 – he had ultimate responsibility for delivering one of the main drivers of that new-found cool. Aiming to rack up half a million visitors a year the museum found itself attracting 100,000 in its first three weeks alone, proof that the City of Discovery has a new wonder in its cultural armoury that everyone wants to experience. 

Next year, as the £1 billion regeneration of the city’s waterfront continues, Edinburgh-born Long will present a show which not only has global appeal for those all-important Millennials and Generation Z-ers that museum and galleries are so keen to attract, but which celebrates Dundee’s recent history as a centre of excellence for the gaming industry. It’s called Video Games: Design/Play/Disrupt, and it looks set to be a blockbuster.

AS if anyone needs reminding, it’s 20 years since a Scottish national football team qualified for the World Cup Finals, which means it hasn’t happened this century. Which means rising stars of the Scottish game such as Aberdeen’s Lewis Ferguson and Hearts’ Harry Cochrane weren’t even born at the time.

But on Tuesday September 4 things started to look up. On that day, in the 68th minute of a crunch match against Albania and with the score at one goal each, Rothesay-born striker Jane Ross rose to meet the ball and headed the Scottish women’s team into history in front of a crowd of 700. A draw for rivals Switzerland meant the Scots topped their group and will now head for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in France. Even better, at this month’s draw in Paris they were placed in the same group as England. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

Luckily, Shelley Kerr doesn’t have to. A former captain of the national side who racked up nearly 60 appearances and whose club career featured stints at Hibernian and Doncaster Belles, the 49-year-old has been the manager of the Scotland women’s side for a mere 20 months. In which case her achievement is double amazing. Not for nothing has the team been dubbed Shelley’s Heroes. 

“It's not often I'm lost for words but I'm really emotional,” she said after the Albania game. “These moments don't come along too often so I'm absolutely ecstatic and it'll take a while for it to sink in that we're off to our first World Cup”.

So, while the wait goes on for the men’s team’s next appearance at a World Cup tournament, we only have six months to wait until Scotland take on England on the biggest stage there is. It’s appropriate, then, that Kerr’s debut as a Scotland player came against England too. It was April 1989, the venue was the Starks Park home of Kirkcaldy’s Raith Rovers, and she had to pay £50 for her own hotel room. Come match day there were so few tracksuits to go around that some of the substitutes had to share: one got a top, another the bottoms. To add to those indignities, Scotland lost by three goals to nil. 

Will the score-line be reversed when the teams meet again in Nice’s 35,000 capacity Allianz Riviera stadium on June 9? Here’s hoping, though Kerr isn’t going to fall prey to any of the false optimism which has afflicted previous Scotland managers at the World Cup. “I was relaxed before the draw,” she told The Herald recently, “and I’m relaxed now. It’s going to be tough – but exciting”.

It has been hard to avoid Darren McGarvey this year, not that anyone in their right mind would have wanted to. Given a pulpit or a microphone, he was always ready with pronouncements on politics, society, culture and the state of the nation that were as strident and heartfelt as they were thoughtful and lucid. 

There he was putting in a barnstorming performance on Question Time opposite Brian Souter and Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng. There he was recording a moving TED talk about anger, speaking about his difficult upbringing and the effect it had on him. There he was hijacking normally tranquil BBC Radio 4 programme Start The Week and turning it into a roiling, boiling torrent of impromptu spoken word genius. There he was publishing Poverty Safari, a ground-breaking book about inequality in the UK which was so Orwellian in tone that it won the 2018 Orwell Prize. (“As I was chairing the judges I had not the slightest doubt Orwell would have given the prize to this book,” said admiring panel chair Andrew Adonis.

“It’s exactly the book that Orwell would have wanted the prize to go to because it so strongly reflects and takes forward his own mode of writing”). And there he was turning the whole thing into a show for the Edinburgh Fringe, and doing what first brought him acclaim in the first place as a rapper called Loki – getting up on a stage, grabbing an audience by the scruff of the neck and not letting go until they had been captivated, energised, educated and inspired. 

After a stellar career as an international rugby player which encompassed 61 Scotland caps, a British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa and the honour of being described by the great Bill McLaren as charging “like a mad giraffe”, Doddie Weir hung up his boots and retired from the Six Nations scene in 2000. In 2017, however, he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Typically, he chose to reveal the news in June of that year to publicise the annual Global MND Awareness Day, at which point he also announced the setting up of a charity to raise funds for research and to help sufferers. The My Name’5 Doddie Foundation was subsequently launched just over a year ago. 

Resplendent in a vivid tartan suit – blue and white for Scotland, yellow and black for his beloved Melrose RFC – Weir became a regular and very visible fixture at Murrayfield during 2018’s Six Nations series and the more recent Autumn Tests, as did the equally vivid My Name’5 Doddie hats and headbands worn by rugby fans. And in November, he inaugurated the Doddie Weir Cup, to be played in perpetuity between Scotland and Wales. 

To date the Foundation has raised over £1 million, a sign of the affection in which Weir is held in his homeland. This month alone, fundraisers in Stonehaven presented him with a cheque for £85,000 and a family in West Lothian donated £34,000 raised from their hosting of a celebrity pro-am golf tournament. Meanwhile the Scotland team which narrowly beat Argentina in November’s Autumn Test handed over £10,000 from their match fees. 

“We may be too late in finding something that can help me,” Weir writes on the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation website, “but I am committed to doing everything I can to help find a cure.” Proof, as if it were needed, that Doddie Weir is as much a hero off the pitch as he was on it.

If 90th birthday celebrations can last a year – and when you’re 90, why shouldn’t they? – then 2018 has been a blast for Edinburgh-born composer Thea Musgrave. A resident of the US for nearly 50 years now, she returned to her homeland in May (the month of her actual birthday) to attend a celebratory tribute concert of her work by Evelyn Glennie and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and to receive an honorary doctorate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. 

During the same trip there was also the small matter of the awarding of an Ivor Novello award (she was honoured alongside Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Shane  MacGowan) and a visit to Buckingham Place to meet the Queen and be awarded with the prestigious Queen’s Medal for Music. Ahead of her audience she told the Palace she was too old to curtsey though she did present her host with a copy of her 1970 opera Mary Queen of Scots and a hand-written card from a soprano who had sung the lead role. It read: “Respect the Crown”. 

Come August, more tributes, this time in the form of two Edinburgh International Festival performances of her work and a further performance at the Proms. And from New York to Stockholm and beyond it was the same story as the world of classical music celebrated the life and career of one of its modern greats.

For anyone who loves the Beautiful Game and hates racism – a group which should include everyone but sadly doesn’t – 2018 is ending on a depressing note. Blame Brexit, blame Tommy Robinson and the rise of the far right, blame some as-yet-unidentified social malaise – for whatever reason, recent alleged racist incidents involving fans of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Aberdeen and Hearts have grabbed front- and back-page headlines on both sides of the Border, and the only sensible conclusion is that racism, so prevalent in the game in the 1970s and 1980s, is on the rise again. In the manager’s dugout, the problem is subtler but no less troubling: there are few black managers at any level in the game. At the 2018 World Cup, among 32 national teams, there was only one.

Into this maelstrom has stepped former Hibernian and Leicester City winger Kevin Harper, who in November was appointed to the manager’s position at Albion Rovers, the Coatbridge-based side currently sitting at the bottom of Scottish League Two, the country’s fourth tier. Harper, from Glasgow’s Possilpark, is the first black manager in Scotland’s top flight for 15 years and only the fourth ever. Before being appointed to the Albion Rovers job he had applied for over 40 positions in a variety of roles.

Only three clubs even bothered to reply and only Rovers had the gumption to offer him an interview. “In any other walk of life, if there wasn't a black or ethnic minority in a particular industry or company for 15 years, there would be uproar,” Harper told the BBC after his appointment. “Should football be different?”. It’s a question with only one answer, but it won’t be forthcoming until there’s more than one man in a position to ask it.

Since he was about one year old, Karen Gray’s son Murray has had epileptic seizures. They began at only three seizures a year, but year on year, increased, doubling up in frequency again and again, until in January of this year Murray, now six, was having 12 major seizures and hundreds of smaller ones a day. Overwhelmed, Karen Gray, then broached the subject of medial cannabis with a neurologist, who told her that it wasn’t a possibility. “So,” she says, “I went into full swing after doing the research myself. I found out that we make epidiolex [a cannabidiol drug] here. That was when I decided to push harder because I thought, hang on, they make it here and it’s a pharmaceutical product for kids with epilepsy so rightly he should be able to access this.”

In March, she launched a petition asking that medical cannabis be made available on the NHS. It was a big ask and apparently Herculean task. But she won the backing of then-Health Minister Shona Robison MSP, caught the sympathy and attention of the public and as a result drew over a quarter of a million signatures to the petition.

Downing Street eventually cocked an ear to listen and in July, Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP announced a change of the law. “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,” he said. For her part, Karen Gray had this to say: “We won!”
On August 22, five months after his mother kicked off her campaign, history was made when Murray Gray became the first Scottish child to be prescribed medical cannabis for the treatment of epilepsy. Since he started taking epidiolex, Gray says, her son has been doing well.

“We did go downhill about three weeks ago when he got the cold and the Epidiolex seemed to stop working. But he’s been okay for the last few days. His day-time seizures have disappeared. He’s still having the tonic clonic seizures [major seizures of the type that used to be called grand mal] maybe he’s having four a night but only during the night. But the rest of the hundreds of seizures have disappeared. 
Gray is still fighting for other children who have not yet got the drugs. “I started up a charity called Parents Of Hope where we’re just going to support families in the same situation as us. It’s absolutely awful that there are kids out there this could help and they’ve not got it yet.”

When Robina Qureshi became aware of the public service provider Serco’s plans to evict over 300 asylum seekers from their properties in Glasgow, her first reaction was to tell its CEO Rupert Soames, not to do it. “I said," she recalls, "‘Could you please not embark on this action. It’s going to cause a lot of misery.’”As director of the charity Positive Action In Housing, Qureshi has fought many waves of such inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers –  always at the frontline of dealing with that impact. “We get people who are vulnerable off the street and hosted through the Room For Refugees network,” she says. 

What Serco was proposing, she recalls, was to turn 330 people out onto the street. “That included women and children. We had people with eviction letters who had children and who were being told to get out."

What followed, for Serco, was what Qureshi describes as a “bloody nose from people in Glasgow”.  A people's movement gathered. “We have network of 38,000 on our subscribers list,” she says, “so once we realised what they were about to do we put out a statement. That went out to all our supporters right across the country and people were outraged.” Not only that, but also the politicians, the churches – everyone was outraged. 

Qureshi was at the heart of a protest that was organised outside the Home Office buildings in Brand Street. There, eviction letters were burned in a brazier. Even while the protest was still happening, she says, a message came through. “We heard that they were not going to evict people for now. They were going to wait until the legal arguments were won.”

As she puts it, “We won. We won something there. They were forced into a humiliating climb down. I don’t think they were prepared for it. I don’t think Rupert Soames was prepared for it. The response was fantastic.” (Serco released a statement welcoming the legal challenges saying it could "bring clarity to an area of law that some people feel is unclear".)

But it’s not over, she observes. In the run up to Christmas, she observes, there has been a fresh wave of eviction notices. “We’re now noticing that refugees and asylum seekers are coming in with letters from Serco telling them to get out before Christmas. They’re basically breaching what they said they would not do when the heat of media attention was on their actions.” 

There hasn’t been nearly enough noise around Jenny Graham, the 38-year-old Inverness cyclist, who last year broke the women’s record for the fastest round-the-world cycle, setting a new time of 124 days, 10 hours and 50 minutes, 20 days less than it took Italy's Paola Gianotti. That she brought home to Scotland a dazzling world cycling record, just as Mark Beaumont has done last year, should have triggered far more fanfare. It was a journey of 180,000 miles that began with an easy cycle across Europe, but started to get tough when she hit Russia. “The traffic,” she said in an interview with Red Bull, “was suddenly horrendous. It was so scary with huge trucks driving so close to me and no hard shoulder. I kept running out of road in which to retreat to." 

In the end, she decided that the only option was to cycle through the night instead of the day, and for 1,200 miles she cycled 15 hours ever night. 
Also challenging was the cycle across Alaska and Canada which took her through remote areas where she barely saw a person and her biggest fear was bears. “I was absolutely terrified of the bears,” she has said.

“I saw three black bears and, while I didn’t spot a grizzly, I was petrified I’d ride around a corner and surprise one. My strategy was to be as loud as possible while cycling my bike so they could hear me coming and be frightened off…I felt on high alert for many days in a row. It was exhausting mentally.”

When, earlier this year, MSPs voted on an amendment to the Crown Estate (Scotland) bill banning the removal of entire kelp plants from the seabed for commercial use, one of the people who was cheering loudest was Ailsa McLellan, the Ullapool oyster farmer who drove the campaign against a kelp harvesting plan. 

It was McLellan who started  a petition that was signed by 14,000 people, after she was shocked to read a report on Marine Biopolymers plans to harvest 30,000 tonnes of kelp in order to produce pharmaceuticals. 

“What that report said,” she says, “absolutely horrified me. My husband and I have got an oyster farm, but we’re doing a bit of diversification into seaweed and I’ve got a licence to hand-cut the seaweed. I knew that anybody who has got a licence to pick any kind of seaweed has to follow really strict rules from the Crown Estate. We can’t kill any individual plant and we have to measure the by-catch and we’re not allowed to alter the habitat." 

Fighting the plans became a full-time job for her. “The really lucky thing was that I’m self-employed and we were coming to the end of the summer which is a less busy oyster time.”

The battle, she says, has given her a “faith in politics”. The politicians, she observes, listened. “The three parties came together,” she says, “Gail Ross, Claudia Beamish and Mark Ruskell who tabled the amendment were so important.” 

On Thursday March 1, as the country ground mostly to a halt under a thick duvet of snow, consultant surgeon Lindsey Chisholm rose early at her home in the West End of Glasgow. She had a job to do – perform surgery on cancer patient Iain McAndrew at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley – and she wasn’t going to let some snow and a red alert get in her way. The previous day she had struggled to make the drive home by car, so, instead of attempting to drive, she put on her goggles, got out her snow poles, and began the eight mile walk to the hospital. The story of Chisholm’s determination spread and made headlines, but the woman herself made light of her feat. 

"I do a bit of winter walking and I've got decent equipment and clothing and a pair of snow-shoes so I thought I could walk,” she said. "I had the right equipment, I knew there was no avalanche risk, I was not going to get lost, there were places I could stop on the way if the weather did become absolutely terrible so I didn't think anything of it." 

It’s been the year the gender pay gap exploded as an issue, and no individual has made a bigger impact on that debate than the Scottish BBC journalist Carrie Gracie. She became the poster woman not just for the cause of gender pay equality at the BBC, but for the issue more widely. Gracie triggered a revolution at the BBC when she resigned as BBC China Editor in January over pay inequality, saying in an open letter, “The BBC belongs to you, the licence fee payer. I believe you have a right to know that it is breaking equality law and resisting pressure for a fair and transparent pay structure.” 

In that letter she made it clear that she believed that she was well paid, and was not looking for more money, but simply wanted “the BBC to abide by the law and value men and women equally”. 

Gracie recalls that the equal pay battle had been brewing throughout 2017 at the BBC. But, she says, “My open letter just blew the lid off that battle and made it public.” At that time she had no idea of quite the impact it would have. “I didn't foresee,” she says, “that the Commons select committee would get involved. MPs kept asking questions and in October the select committee reported that the BBC had failed in its duty to give staff equal pay and opportunities.”

She also didn’t foresee the way it would resonate more widely, and picking up on the energy of "the ongoing #metoo movement to challenge sexual harassment in the workplace”.

In June the BBC apologised and gave her back pay, which she donated to the Fawcett society. The battle, however, was clearly tough for her personally. In an interview in July, she described it as “worse” than her fight with breast cancer.

Where does she feel we are at now? “I'm even clearer than I was at the beginning," she says. "Pay discrimination is a pervasive problem. All year, women have been coming up to me on the street to tell me their horror stories of unequal pay. They also tell me how hard it feels to put it right. And I know exactly what they mean because I've been there.”

When, earlier this year, Selina Cairns was named Person Of The Year at the Slow Food Awards, that represented quite turnaround for the sheep farmer and cheesemaker, who had been at the centre of a food safety scandal. Because 2018 was the year that Errington Cheese, the family business of which she is director, came back, emerging from the darkness that had lurked around it since, in 2016, it was named as the most likely source of an outbreak of E coli food poisoning which tragically killed a three-year-old girl. Back then the cheese it made was seized by South Lanarkshire council and the business seemed finished. 

But Errington Cheese fought on, and, after a long legal battle, the company won a judicial review stating that all batches of cheese were safely produced and safe to eat, and was awarded £254,000 compensation from the council. This was a victory, not just for Cairns, who makes her cheese from the raw milk produced by her flock of Lacaune sheep but for artisan cheesemakers all over Scotland. Had she lost, it would have meant EU regulations were being interpreted in such a way as to make it impossible for anyone to make cheese in Scotland from raw, unpasteurised milk – even though, all over Europe, people are making it in this way. For Errington Cheese, it was a long, tough and nightmarish journey, and particularly so because it began with the death a child. “That was incredibly hard,” she says. “That was the worst thing about it.” However, Errington Cheese still refute the claim that the E coli outbreak was caused by their cheese.  

The fight for justice by survivors of historic abuse has already been a long and difficult one – and much of the way, Andi Lavery has been there speaking up not only for himself, but many other victims of abuse by those in the Catholic Church. This year, he finally saw his primary abuser, Father Francis Paul Moore, now aged 82, face justice, and be found guilty of the shocking sexual abuse of three children and sentenced to eight years in prison – after an appeal reduced it from nine years. 
Following the original sentencing, Mr Lavery said, “It’s never going to take away the sickening things that have happened He looked me in the eye when he was walking down to the cells and I realised I didn’t fear him anymore. He had nothing but rage towards me which shows he’s not sorry for anything he’s done. Father Moore poisoned my life.” Lavery was the youngest known victim of Fr Moore, being only five years old when he was the victim of abhorrent sexual violence leaving significant injuries. The trial itself was a difficult experience for him. It was, he said, “worse than the abuse itself – an entirely toxic experience”.

Sadly the battle, for him, continues – not just to see abusers imprisoned, but, he says, also to see “those in authority... both repair the catastrophic harm and offer qualified redress and recognition of how the Catholic Church has destroyed my life”. 

The reason Billy Connolly is a hero is, of course, not just because of what he did in 2018, but because of the wonder and inspiration he’s been over the 50 years of his comedy career. However, his retirement from stand-up, which he announced last month, seems a good excuse to celebrate what he has brought into our lives – and is still bringing. For, at 76 years old, while battling Parkinson’s, he hasn’t totally stopped, and his ITV show, The Ultimate Tour, was the kind of jolt of joy and hope needed in these times. What comes across is his gentleness, and that he really is, as he says, still “young at heart”, still extolling the joys of naked dancing. “You must be out of shape to do it,” he says. “If you’re in shape, you look like you’re showing off.” 
Barry Didcock and Vicky Allan