The year that was 2014 – Part 2

Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. Northumbria University graduate. Opinionated, my aim is to fuel debate. My favourite questions in life are Why? How? And What? My Favourite answers tend to start with It depends or Yes & No.

This is the second instalment of our rundown of the top stories for 2014. Check out part one and keep an eye out for parts three and four over the coming days.

Malala Yousafzia

Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the honour with children’s rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi.

Malala boarded her school bus on 9 October 2012 when a gunman asked for her by name and then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. One hit the left side of her forehead. It travelled under her skin, through the length of her face, and ended up in her shoulder.

Malala made a speech to the United Nations and was named one of the ‘100 most influential people’ by Time Magazine in 2013.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called her the ‘Identity of Pakistan’.

Yousafzia is continuing her education in Britain but hopes to enter Pakistani politics.

#FreeAJStaff

June: Two Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to seven years and one to 10 years in prison on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, reporting false news and endangering national security.

Peter Greste, Mohamed Fagmy and Baher Mohamed marked one year in prison on the 29 December 2014. Three other journalists were sentenced in abstentia to 10 years in a trial that was seen as politicaly motivated in a diplomatic row between Egypt and Qatar (the home of Al Jazeera).

Qatar had previously supported the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. The trial saw irrelevant and fabricated evidence used to convict the journalists. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has hinted that the journalists may be pardoned when the appeal begins on 1 January. The verdict saw journalists all over the world silently protest by taping their mouths.

The Rise of UKIP

2014 was a good year for UKIP. May saw the local and European elections take place. In the local elections, UKIP took 17% of the vote, knocking the Lib Dems into fourth place on the night, although the Lib Dems held steady at fourth place nationwide for the total number of councillors.

UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, gained 163 councillors but didn’t take control of any council. UKIP didn’t just take a swing of votes from the Conservatives but also from Labour. The Greens also saw an increase of 18 to 38 councillors.

The European Polls were even more damaging for the main political parties, with UKIP coming first with 26.6% of the vote, pushing Labour into second with 24.4% and the Conservatives in third with 23.1%. The Greens came in fourth with 6.91%, the SNP in fifth with 2.37% and the Lib Dems came last, losing all but one MEP with just 6.61% of the votes.

Not only did UKIP storm through these two elections, they also gained two MPs through Tory defections. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless defected, sparking bi-elections in both constituencies. Carswell took 59.7% of the vote for UKIP, leaving the Tories in second with 24.6%. Mark Reckless took 42.1% of the vote, with the Tories second at 34.8% The Lib Dems came fifth with 0.9% of the vote.

The question for 2015 is: can UKIP keep the momentum going into the general election or will they unravel in the run up?

Scottish independence quashed (for now)

In September, Scotland held its long-awaited independence referendum to determine whether Scotland would stay a part of the Union or not.

For the first time, the voting age was lowered to 16. SNP leader Alex Salmond led the Yes campaign with former chancellor Alistair Darling leading the No campaign.

After a poll put the Yes camp ahead, Westminster went into panic mode with all three leaders of the Westminster parties going to Scotland to campaign, whilst signing a pledge for greater devolution if the vote was a no.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown leapt into the No campaign and, following the No vote victory of 55% to 45%, he was credited with saving the Union.

Alex Salmond resigned upon the announcement of the results, making way for his deputy Nicola Sturgeon to become the first female First Minister of Scotland. Following the referendum, Alex Salmond has decided to run for a seat in Parliament, whilst both Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown have decided to stand down from Parliament at the next election.

USA and Cuba

17 December saw President Obama announce that he would be normalising relations with Cuba, which were frozen by John F. Kennedy during the Cold War. The move was seen as logical, compassionate and transformative after 18 months of secret negotiations and an exchange of captured spies.

Obama announced the deal, guaranteed by the Vatican. A president in his second term, Obama doesn’t have to worry about winning Florida, and with the Pope coming from Latin America, he took the chance to finally normalise relations with the island just 90 miles off the American coast. This has put Obama on a political high at the end of the year after losing control of both houses of Congress in the November Mid Terms.

Oscar Pistorius

On 12 September, following a lengthy trial that started on 3 March, Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He was sentenced to five years in prison. He was also found guilty of two firearms-related incidents.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that Pistorius was negligent in his actions when he shot at a closed door. The defence had tried to argue the defence of generalised anxiety disorder which, following psychiatric evaluation, was dismissed.

The prosecution has appealed the court’s ruling, however the judge has stated they can appeal the ruling of acquitting Pistorius of murder or dolus-eventualis, but not the sentence he has received.

The Paralympic champion’s fall from grace was complete in what was a long 19 months. With the appeal being accepted, the case is set to continue for Pistorius and Steenkamp’s family.

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