Essays and discussions

Review of 2014

This year doesn't seem to have been a terribly good one, unfortunately. It's the year that Isis took over a pretty large chunk of Iraq, with the army falling away in its advance. It's the year that Boko Haram kidnapped over two hundred schoolgirls in Nigeria. It's the year that Ukraine was invaded and part of forcibly annexed by a newly resurgent and belligerent Russia. This latter has me especially worried. The worst of the Cold War was over when I was growing up, and this seems to be some sort of return, Russia demanding its 'sphere of influence' and throwing its weight around. And the West seems to have no real idea how to handle it.

This year also saw another war (if such an unequal conflict can be called a war) between Israel and Palestine. By now, such events don't really come as much of a surprise. Israel will ignore anything the rest of the world says when it comes to the rabid, paranoid defence of its annexed land. By now, small scale action like personal or academic boycotts seem pretty to have no impact, and there will be no nation state-level action as long as the US keeps vetoing things at the Security Council. Also in the Middle East, there's the rise of Isis, and the corresponding headless chicken response by the UK and US. The rise of Isis is complex, with roots going back a long way and I'm not even going to try to get into it (although author Charlie Stross has a good article). Call me cynical, but I can't help thinking that despite Isis being rather horrible, they're not a threat outside the Middle East, but the powers that be want us to think of them as such, to justify further power grabs of their own. "Look", they say, "we lied about Snowden, but here's why we really do need all these spying and terrorism powers". I'm not convinced.

Race relations in the US seem like they're at their lowest ebb since the civil rights movement of the '60s. The killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York seem like watershed moments and feel like they could tip the country into civil conflict. From the outside, it seems like it's not that the policemen were found not guilty, it's that they didn't even stand trial. Justice doesn't just need to be done, it needs to be seen to be done. We've had our own problems with apparent police immunity in the UK over the years, but this year seems to have tarnished their image, with the Plebgate affair.

The biggest political event in the UK this year (whether our cousins south of the border realise it or not), in my opinion, was the Scottish independence referendum. This engaged the attention of Scotland for nearly two years, before coming to its conclusion in September. I voted Yes in the referendum, something that I would never have considered just a few years ago. I'm not going to go into the details of why I did this here, as I wrote a blog post about it at the time. Although we lost that argument, I think we won something more important: political engagement. The Scottish referendum wasn't just the sort of thing discussed by politics geeks like me, it was literally everywhere. It was discussed in pubs, workplaces, barbers, coffee shops and more throughout the country. People registered to vote who haven't been registered since the '80s, or maybe even ever. The turnout was the highest for a UK vote since universal suffrage was introduced. It really went to show that people aren't disengaged with politics at all, just with the current system. Even after the vote went against them, membership of Yes-leaning parties soared, and the SNP is now the third-largest political party in the UK! Opinion polls suggest that in the next Westminster election, due this coming year, Scottish Labour will be in for a kicking, quite rightly so, in my opinion, due to their relentlessly negative campaigning (not just about the referendum, but in their role as Loyal Opposition at Holyrood). On top of that, just before Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, she went on a rock-star style tour of the country, filling stadia throughout Scotland (complete with T-shirts!), ending with the Flying Saucer in Glasgow, which was almost filled to its capacity of nearly 13,000. By, I remind you, a political rally. And just behind it, in the Armadillo, the Radical Independence movement was holding its conference as well, which attracted an attendance in the thousands. It just goes to show that the people can still be engaged by politics when they find something worth engaging them. And now that that engagement has started, I earnestly hope that it continues.

On a related note, as part of a (slightly desperate, I feel, but then I would say that, wouldn't I?) ploy to woo Scottish voters, all three UK major political party leaders made a 'vow' expressing that greater powers would be transferred to Scotland in the event of a No vote. That vote was duly delivered, and the Smith Commission was established to look into what those powers should be. But it's also opened a, long overdue, if you ask me, debate into England's constitutional arrangement as well, with the West Lothian Question being reformulated into the snappier 'English Votes for English Laws' soundbite and various English cities petitioning for more powers. This is something that I'd hoped would come out of the Referendum: the UK has been coasting by for too long, its constitutional settlement was well overdue a revamp.

It would be remiss of me to talk about UK politics of 2014 without mentioning that scourge of progressive politics: UKIP. South of the border, they have become a worryingly formidable force (thanks in no small part to blanket media coverage), despite their bumbling and their racist and fascist roots constantly showing. In Scotland, they're still marginal, but I do worry about their prospects in the upcoming (Westminster) general election.

Still, it hasn't all been doom and gloom. In the skies, Humanity continues to amaze me, and the Philae lander made mainstream news when it landed on a comet late this year, as part of ESA's Rosetta mission. The attaching mechanism may have failed to work, so we can't entirely say that 2014 was the year ESA outdid Curiosity's skyhook by harpooning a comet, but my niece is growing up in a world where it's normal to be able to send a probe to land on a body travelling at tens to hundreds of thousands of kilometres an hour.

2014 was also the year that equal marriage came to the UK (or, at least to Great Britain). Both England and Wales and Scotland have brought in legislation that enable gay people to marry, and the first ceremonies have taken place. The idea of the state restricting who you could love and marry was always bewildering to me and I'm glad that it's finally changed. Of course, as I indicated above, it hasn't come to the entire UK: my homeland is still stuck firmly in the 1940s in some ways: gay and women's rights being chief amongst them (although, somewhat to my surprise, civil parnerships are legal there).

Finally, this has been a fairly quiet year in my personal life. I continue to enjoy the company and friendship of those close to me. One of my favourite people got married, another has become a parent, and with the news of a couple of marriages to come, I've got an excuse to wear the top hat I bought in a chocolate-cake induced haze back in the autumn! My parents were visited by an aunt from India and another from the US, who appears to be obsessed with getting young people married off. Apart from that, the M word wasn't mentioned, much to my relief. I attended the Glasgow EasterCon, but missed out on WorldCon due to having to be grown up and spend the money on a new bathroom instead.

So, not a vintage year but a second nephling is on the way, which will make my sister happy, my roleplaying campaigns are still fun and board gaming has turned from a sideline into a fully fledged new hobby. I'll take that and move into 2015 with a positive attitude.

— 30 December 2014

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