Frontline workers

In many ways, they are anonymous. An army of healthcare workers shrouded by layers of protective clothing, masks and visors. They are doctors and nurses and paramedics and care workers, toiling tirelessly the length and breadth of Scotland

We may not know their names but back in the spring, all across the country, people stood on doorsteps and applauded at 8pm on Thursday evenings. We drew rainbows and displayed them on windows, walls, fence railings and lamp posts as a symbol of gratitude. 

That heartfelt appreciation extends to all key workers: the emergency services, military personnel, delivery drivers, shop employees, teachers, waste collectors, manufacturers, warehouse operatives, postal workers, cleaners, vets, engineers and more.

There came shock and anger at the horrendous death toll as coronavirus spread through care homes, the fallout of which will reverberate for years to come. In more recent weeks, there was a glimmer of hope as the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered to elderly residents and staff. 

This summer, photographer Elaine Livingstone visited the intensive care unit (ICU) at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. She captured a series of powerful portraits
of medical staff as they worked on the Covid-19 frontline. 

Ruth Whyte, a charge nurse, has worked in intensive care for 19 years. She told our sister paper, the Glasgow Times, about the many challenges she and her colleagues faced, not least when it came to making that much-needed connection with patients. 

“With the PPE and without visitors, things that would come naturally to you, you had to work that bit harder for,” she said. “Finding out about them and building a picture of them as a person was a bit like being a detective.

“Touch is so important to us, but they didn’t have somebody there holding their hand, so to me I felt like I was their nurse and their visitor.”

When it comes to our heroes of 2020, we are thinking about Ruth and all those like her. Those who selflessly went above and beyond. Those who laid their own lives on the line to help others. Those who brought much-needed light to the darkness of this annus horribilis.

Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie

In March, when Scotland went into lockdown, athletes and training partners Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie moved in together to continue their journey towards Tokyo 2020. The Olympics may have been postponed but the duo, coached by Andy Young, have had an incredible year. 

Muir broke the British record for 1,000m and set a world lead over 1,500m. She went sub-four minutes in the 1,500m on three occasions – setting the fastest times in the world this year. The five-times European champion produced a trio of blistering runs, clocking 3:57.40 in Berlin, 3:57.86 in Stockholm and 3:58.24 in Chorzow.

HeraldScotland: A delighted Jemma Reekie is hugged by Laura Muir after breaking the British indoor 800m record at Emirates Arena in GlasgowA delighted Jemma Reekie is hugged by Laura Muir after breaking the British indoor 800m record at Emirates Arena in Glasgow

Reekie has broken the indoor British 800m, mile and 1,500m records in 2020. She led the world indoor 800m rankings with 1:57.91, also breaking British, Scottish and British under-23 records along the way. Unbeaten in all but one 800m race this year, Reekie has run five of the world’s top 14 times. That’s fast legs.

Don MacPhee

When a car crashed into the River Clyde, Renfrew ferry skipper Don MacPhee had no hesitation about diving in to save the driver’s life.

The father-of-five from South Uist was guiding the ferry towards the Yoker slip when the drama unfolded in May. He said: “I could see [the car] was beginning to be dragged downstream and we cracked the boat into gear and nipped over. We dived
in and got the woman out. It’s just what you do.”

It was a case of right place, right time: MacPhee had been due to go home to the Outer Hebrides in late March after a training course, but when the UK went into lockdown two days before he was set to leave, he remained in Renfrew. Serendipity. 

Tao Geoghegan Hart 

Some may say that Scotland’s claim on Tao Geoghegan Hart – who won the Giro d’Italia in October – is tenuous but hear us out. While born in London, he qualifies on account of having a Scottish father (lest we forget how many footballers have played for Scotland thanks to Fifa’s grandparent rule).

There was talk of Geoghegan Hart competing for Team Scotland at Glasgow 2014 (he even joined a 2013 training camp in Girona), but, at the time, he had newly signed with the Hagens Berman Axeon cycling team and committed to a US-based race programme. Who knows? Maybe in the future. 

It would be remiss not to mention the success of Scots cyclists Katie Archibald and Neah Evans who won double gold (that’s four medals between them) at the European Track Cycling Championships in Bulgaria last month.

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Their stellar victory in the team pursuit on November 12 may not have got the attention it deserved given the Scotland men’s football team qualified for the Euros that same night. Next stop: Tokyo 2020 (in 2021). 

Special mention to rising Scottish stars Lusia Steele, who took silver in her elite level debut at the European Track Cycling Championships, and Cameron Mason for his bronze medal ride in the men’s under-23 European Cyclo-cross Championships. 

Janey Godley

The easy thing would have been to do nothing. To sit at home, glued to the news and feel the anxiety rise like millions of other Scots. But that’s not the Janey Godley way. 

Instead, the Glasgow comedian and actor began a series of voiceovers: her take on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s daily coronavirus briefing. The result was informative and hilarious as Godley imparted key messages in easy-to-understand, bite-sized clips. She went viral for talking about a virus. 

Memorable moments include a sweary outburst about former chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood “bending the rules” by visiting her second home in Fife during lockdown and advising listeners that there should be “nae rumpy pumpy” between couples living in different households. 

Godley ended each video with her catchphrase “Frank, get the door! Ma feet are killing me”, usually accompanied by an internal monologue of Sturgeon ruminating about what she would have for lunch (corned beef rolls and so on). 

The spoof broadcasts – viewed by millions – have been praised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh for helping to tackle the spread of the pandemic in Scotland, saying that the skits have been effective in getting the public to take action to prevent the spread of the virus.

By adding “comedy and relatability”, her satirical musings are said to have encouraged people to engage with repetitive prevention messages about social distancing, staying at home, washing hands and wearing a mask.

HeraldScotland: Comedian Janey GodleyComedian Janey Godley

Nor was that all Godley achieved in 2020. With theatres and comedy venues closed, she found other ways to put her time to good use. Alongside her daughter Ashley Storrie, a fellow comedian, Godley has raised more than £40,000 for charity, including the STV Children’s Appeal and Carers Trust Scotland.

Godley did a quartet of poignant and funny online plays as part of National Theatre of Scotland’s Scenes For Survival called Alone Part I and II (Parts III and IV are due to be released today and Hogmanay). 

She wrote a book (Frank, Get The Door!) and has penned a novel due out next year. Godley’s comedy short film, The Last Mermaid, won best actress at the 2020 Scottish Short Film Awards. She was named Scots Speaker of the Year at 2020 Scots Language Awards. 

Not bad going by any measure. Here, Godley shares a brief summary of her year:

Standout moments of 2020?

Captain Tom’s incredible achievement and watching Nicola Sturgeon say “Frank, get the door!” in the comedy sketch we did for the STV Children’s Appeal.

What are you most proud of?
Being able to stay creative during the anxiety and fear of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Biggest lesson learned?
I really don’t need to buy that many clothes in a year and I need to recycle my personal stuff as it doesn’t mean that much. 

Hopes for 2021? 
Recovery for business and people’s mental health. 

Captain Sir Tom Moore

Cometh the hour, cometh the 100-year-old man. Captain Sir Tom Moore’s sudden rise to national-treasuredom speaks volumes about the year we’ve battled through and what we looked to as symbols of hope.

In a period in which we lost so many elders, a centenarian became a magnet for both fame and donations. In a time when the NHS felt under threat, he channelled a desire out there to support it and each other. 

Moore’s journey started on April 6, when just a few weeks into lockdown, at the age of 99, he began to walk laps of this garden as a fundraiser for NHS Charities Together. The idea was that he would raise £1,000 by his 100th birthday – which was at the end of the month.

In those 24 days he became a superstar as well as raising more than £32 million. His was a message of optimism. “For all those finding it difficult,” he said, “the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”

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Moore was a man who remembered the Blitz and somehow embodied that spirit of stoicism, community and solidarity. The disease may have shone a light on the inequality in our country, but Moore touched on something we all felt for a moment – that we were in it together, and we could help each other.

The money, of course, didn’t stop flooding in, and the fame didn’t stop growing. Over the year he became the first centenarian to have a number one chart hit with his cover version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, published his autobiography, You’ll Never Walk Alone and was knighted by the queen – though really, to most of us, he was just Captain Tom. 

By the time the campaign closed, it had topped £32,794,700. “I’m absolutely overawed,” he said in a Guardian interview earlier this month. “Never in 100 years did I anticipate this would happen to me – that my name would go around the world.”

Andrew Cotter 

Sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter’s wry commentary about his dogs Olive and Mabel was a much-needed tonic during lockdown. The clips went viral, winning fans around the globe. 

Cotter, who comes from Troon, Ayrshire and is a regular on the BBC, has written a heart-warming memoir, Olive, Mabel and Me, about their adventures.

Len Pennie

It is nigh-on impossible not to feel a surge of patriotism at Len Pennie’s Scots Word of the Day. Fife-based Pennie – better known to her 30k Twitter followers as Miss Punny Pennie and @lenniesaurus – is a passionate ambassador for the preservation of Scots language.

The self-described “warrior poet held together wae spite and duct tape” penned and performed I’m No Havin’ Children, a love letter to “a proud ancient language” and one dedicated to the strength of her own mother. Well worth a listen. 

Dr Kenneth Baillie

Where would we be without the research? It is at the heart of our battle against the virus – and the intensive care specialist, Dr Kenneth Baillie, and the lab he leads at the Roslin Institute, has done groundbreaking work.

He led, for instance, the recently published, ground-breaking GenOMICC study, which showed genetic associations with critical Covid and that those with particular genes were more likely to get it badly.

He also co-led an earlier study which found risk factors for the disease such as obesity and diabetes, and created a prognostic score – and he contributed to the set-up and delivery of the RECOVERY trial, which found the first effective treatment, dexamethasone.

“I think,” he told The Herald last week, “my most striking memory of this year will be all of the willingness of everyone to step forward and help wherever needed. I’m thinking of clinical and research staff in hospitals across the whole country, and study managers and lab staff and volunteers.

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"People worked day and night to care for patients in the ICUs, to organise and coordinate research and clinical trials across the whole country, and then to complete complex data analyses in record time.” 

Looking to the year ahead, he said, “We all still have a lot of work left to do and we’re still seeing people die of Covid in ICUs across the country. 

“But it is astonishing that we already have an effective treatment (steroids) and an understanding of the genetic mechanisms of the disease that points us towards several more potential treatments.

“Hopefully we can do the same for other diseases like sepsis and flu, after Covid is controlled.”

Professor Devi Sridhar

If one expert voice on Covid and public health has stood out in the last year, it’s that of 36-year-old professor Devi Sridhar, the American scientist who holds the chair in public health at the University of Edinburgh. Sridhar became a kind of public health superstar, speaking out against the “herd immunity” approach. 

In March, she was one of a group of professors who signed a letter to the Lancet criticising the UK’s approach to the pandemic, and requesting “that the government urgently and openly shares the scientific evidence, data, and models it is using.”

She is a member of a group that advises the UK’s SAGE team, and one of the experts who advises the Scottish Government. 

HeraldScotland: Devi Sridhar, author and professor at the University of Edinburgh. Picture: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty ImagesDevi Sridhar, author and professor at the University of Edinburgh. Picture: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Sometimes she came under fire for how outspoken she was – for instance, when she issued the tweet, “It is the tragedy of history that when a serious pandemic hit the world where leadership and good governance were required, Donald Trump was US President and Boris Johnson was UK Prime Minister.”

Meanwhile, she praised the approach of many of the East Asian countries, which she said, had got it right. 

What has been clear is that she views the battle against the virus through the prism of equality. Public health, for her, is about all of us – and especially the poor, who are set to be hit worst by the virus. 

Joe Wicks 

The man who got everyone, and not just the schoolkids, jumping around their living rooms like a kangaroo and doing Spider-Man lunges. Life during lockdown was marked by a number of shared activities – and one of them was PE With Joe. 

Few, certainly, are the families with school-age children who didn’t do at least a few Pikachu squats with him. In the months from March to July, when the workouts stopped, he did 78 PE workouts and had 80 million views, making £580,000 for the NHS. 

The nation was working out together – though some of us were perhaps not always joining him for the 9am livestream. They were also being tested for general knowledge, witnessing some daft fancy dress costumes, and following the family journey as Wicks has surgery on his arm and his wife, Rosie, stepped in to demonstrate.

Joe said in an interview, “People now realise they can have a great workout in their living room, or their bedroom or their garden with no equipment, and that’s really what I’ve been trying to achieve, to make fitness accessible and sustainable for everybody and I really hope that people realise that you don’t need an expensive gym membership and loads of equipment to stay fit and healthy – that’s really my goal.”

Monica Lennon 

Nowhere else in the world had done it. But, here in Scotland, politicians have not only extensively debated and discussed the Long-taboo subject of periods in our parliament, but passed a bill to provide free and universal access to period products.

Monica Lennon, the MSP, who spearheaded a campaign was recently named one of Vogue’s top female leaders who have changed the world. And rightly so. The policy was a first in the world.

But also, this four-year campaign got us talking about both poverty and the taboos and stigma around menstruation – and at a time when, as a result of the pandemic, poverty is on the rise. 

HeraldScotland: Scottish Labour's Monica Lennon. Picture: Gordon Terris/The HeraldScottish Labour's Monica Lennon. Picture: Gordon Terris/The Herald

It revolutionised the way we talk about periods. As Lennon put it, “A few years ago there had never been an open discussion of menstruation in the Holyrood chamber and now it is mainstream. 

"MSPs have enjoyed being a part of that, and it has encompassed the menopause, endometriosis, as well as the types of products we use and their sustainability.”

Lennon has even suggested that this law could be replicated throughout the world. 

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer

This year brought not just a pandemic, but a wave of energy for change around racism, and, in the midst of restrictions, Black Lives Matter protests.

In the midst of all this, a powerful voice has been that of Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, Jamaican-born and the first black professor in Scotland. His message was, “Don’t take down statues – take down racism.” 

The statues, he believes, are part of black history. Rather than remove the statue to Henry Dundas, known as the Melville Monument, he suggested – and in fact had already been campaigning some years for – a plaque to be added describing how Dundas had played a pivotal role in delaying the abolition of slavery by having the word “gradual” inserted in William Wilberforce’s motion.

HeraldScotland: Professor Sir Geoff Palmer. Picture: Martin ShieldsProfessor Sir Geoff Palmer. Picture: Martin Shields

At the Black Lives Matter protest in Holyrood Park, Palmer made one of the key speeches. In an interview with the BBC this summer, he said, “I don’t want statues to be taken down. My view is you remove the evidence, you remove the deed. The past has consequences and a lot of people forget that.

"Racism is a consequence of the past. You may take street names away but we have difficulty convincing people about the past. Removing it is very tricky because we are altering history.”

Margaret Payne

Captain Tom might have done laps of his garden, but Margaret Payne of Ardvar, aimed for giddier heights and climbed the iconic Scottish mountain, Suilven – or at least she climbed its 731 metre height in 282 ascents of the stairs in her Sutherland home.

She had been climbing those steps, for exercise before she heard of Tom Moore’s laps, and it was her daughter who suggested she do something with it, in terms of fundraising for the NHS. “I said,” she recalls, “well why can’t I climb Suilven? And that’s how it all started.”

Payne, who spoke to us just after her 91st birthday this month, said, “I don’t feel I deserve all that I’ve had in terms of attention, because I feel it’s really the people who did the publicity and the people who donated who really deserve the thanks.

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“I did do the stair-climbing but I feel that was a very small part. My daughter spent hours and hours on the telephone organising things.” 

She chose Suilven because it was a mountain she had climbed in her teens, and, in fact, the only mountain that she had ever climbed “to the very top”. “You see I’ve had a dicky knee all my life, from the time I was about 12 and so I never did a lot of hill climbing, though I’ve done quite a lot of walking.”

The stair-climbing, however, didn’t cause that knee a lot of trouble, though it did make it ache sometimes and she had a couple of days off at one point to allow it to recover. 
“I thought if I got £10,000 I would be doing well,” she recalls. “But the final figure is £437,122.11.” 

Scott McPartlin

Digital and phone connectivity has never been more of a lifeline than it has over the last year, and someone who helped keep that going for many was Scott McPartlin, the customer service engineer who was dubbed “Openreach’s Bear Grylls” after he camped out on Coll for three days to restore services to a vulnerable resident there who was shielding.

McPartlin was one of those people who went above and beyond the call of duty during lockdown. Since there was no accommodation available, due to restrictions, he pitched a tent.

On another occasion, he hiked three miles over a Hebridean beach, carrying his tools during a heatwave. McPartlin wasn’t alone in going the extra mile, but he embodied for many the urge that was felt across this country.

Marcus Rashford

On January 15 in an FA Cup third round replay between Manchester United and Wolves, the United striker Marcus Rashford came on as a substitute in the second half. Some 15 minutes later he went off again after a clash with Matt Doherty.

Rashford had suffered a double stress fracture in his back and was going to be out for a while. He was still rehabilitating when football shut down in March during the lockdown.

Faced with an extended break from the game, rather than mess around playing Football Manager, the 23-year-old decided to throw himself into a project close to his heart.

In March, he teamed up with the charity FairShare to call for donations for children who would not be receiving free meals because schools were closed. “No child should have to worry where their next meal is coming from,” he pointed out. 

A Manchester lad, Rashford was one of a family of five raised by their single mum. Money was always a problem. He would hear his mother Melanie cry herself to sleep at nights. In short, he grew up knowing what poverty was.

HeraldScotland: Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Picture: Nick Potts/PA WireManchester United's Marcus Rashford. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Now, in a position of security and influence, he has become the country’s most effective poverty campaigner. In the months that followed his injury, as well as giving his own money to the cause, he spoke out in favour of extending free school meals through school holidays in England over the summer.

At first the Westminster government rejected his call before being forced into a U-turn. And when MPs in October voted against extending free school meals through the Christmas holidays, Rashford vowed to continue the fight. “This is not going away any time soon and neither am I.” 

A month later Boris Johnson’s government caved in, agreeing to introduce a coronavirus winter grant scheme and extend the food programme through next year’s holiday periods in England. (The Scottish Government had already signed up to Rashford’s free school meal plan).

Back in April the health secretary Matt Hancock had a go at Premier League footballers, saying they should take a pay cut and play their part during the pandemic. It was a cheap shot (this government is very good at those). 

Rashford, measured, committed and knowledgeable has definitely played his part and shown the government up in the process. 

Steve Clarke

How long has it been? Some 22 years. More than two decades since Scotland’s international football team made it to the finals of a major competition. The last time was 1998, when Craig Brown led Scotland to the World Cup in France.

After years of mediocrity, Scotland’s play-off victory in Serbia last month was proof that appointing the former Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke in May last year was a good one. Some of the football the national team has played under him hasn’t always been pretty, but it has been effective. 

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Now the Tartan Army has, coronavirus vaccine permitting, a chance to see the team play England, the Czech Republic and Croatia next summer – which raises a new challenge for Clarke. 

Can he be the first Scottish manager to guide his team past the group stage in a major competition? (Something every other home nation has managed more than once after all.) Or is that asking too much? Next year will give us the answer. 

Douglas Stuart

In more than 50 years, a Scottish author had only won the Booker Prize once before 2020. James Kelman was awarded it in 1994 for his novel How Late It Was, How Late, a victory that caused no little controversy at the time for its use of vernacular language (and the rawness of that language too).

It may be a measure of how things have changed that this year a novel about a young, gay boy living with his alcoholic mother narrated in a Glaswegian voice barely raised an eyebrow.

It may also be a measure of just what an achievement Douglas Stuart’s novel Shuggie Bain is, a deeply felt novel about love, addiction and poverty that has an extra kick because it draws on Stuart’s own biography. He grew up in Glasgow in the 1980s not knowing his father and living with his alcoholic mum. 

After she died, he studied textiles in the Borders before working in the fashion industry in New York.

But he always nurtured a desire to be a writer and he worked on Shuggie Bain for more than 10 years. It was worth the wait.

In a red-letter year for Scottish fiction, one that gave us new and powerful work from the likes of Ali Smith, Maggie O’Farrell and Kirstin Innes, Stuart’s novel was a reminder of how fiction can let us see – and more crucially understand – other people’s lives no matter how far removed from our own. Or how close. 

Dolly Parton

Writing more than 3,000 songs, one or two of them among the best-known songs in the world, would be quite the legacy for most people. But Dolly Parton’s gifts to the rest of us extends way beyond that.

HeraldScotland: Dolly PartonDolly Parton

In the 1990s she spoke up in support of HIV/Aids groups. In 2018, her charity book gifting programme for children, Imagination Library, gave away it’s 100 millionth book.

And this year, it emerged that while President Trump was busy downplaying the risk of the coronavirus, Dolly was donating $1m to fund research into the Moderna vaccine.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden seems a decent enough sort. Getting on a bit, to be fair, maybe a bit too cautious to make a huge difference politically (time will tell on that). But his success in November’s US Presidential election should be celebrated as much for what he is not as what he is. 

Closer in the end than many of us would have liked (although as it panned out not that close at all), Biden’s victory in the election represented a rejection of four years of brutal, nasty, grifting, stupid and at times racist leadership by possibly the worst man ever to be President. (And there have been some real horrors in the White House over the years).

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Trump may or may not go away but Trumpism is not likely to disappear any time soon. He was the culmination rather than the initiator of a deeply populist, aggressive coarsening of politics that has been going on for years, aided by social media (and companies like Cambridge Analytica) and fuelled by Russian interference.

It’s asking a lot of Joe Biden to somehow reset the American body politic, but hopefully in the short term he can at least give us an example of how a President should behave in office. That would be a start.