Essays and discussions

Review of 2016

To be honest, I've been quailing at having to write this review for months. How on Earth is one supposed to sum up this godsforsaken, unpolished slagheap of a year. Thankfully, the always marvellous John Oliver has done the job for me (NSFW). That just about covers the year as a whole, I think, but I suppose I should talk about some of the specifics.

Firstly there's the American election and the baffling election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. I've seen the commentary, the discussion of how he appealed to the left behinds and downtrodden and I'm still baffled. You know if you've got a choice of two evils, you're supposed to pick the lesser, don't you? Hillary Clinton may have represented the status quo and the establishment, but to choose a sexist, racist, narcissist with a huge ego and no experience of governing leaves me, well, baffled. And with Republicans having a majority in both houses of Congress, it seems that there's little to stand in his way.

And yet... And yet (assuming that he doesn't get carried away with the shiny Big Red Button), a Trump presidency will end. In four or eight years time, someone else will have a chance to repair the damage. But brexit, on the other hand, brexit is forever. Again, there were similar contributing factors to those that saw Trump elected: disaffection with mainstream politics, blatant lies and a credulous media. I must confess that I took the result hard, spending hours cursing the ineptitude of the Remain campaign, the lies of the Leavers and the credulity of the electorate, who fell for it, £350M bus and all (I stayed off Twitter for several days after it, until I was cheered by the defeat of England by Iceland at the football. That's the sort of thing that Twitter was created for. It gave me a much-needed laugh).

And after all that, on a wafer-thin majority of 52%, the new government of Theresa May has the audacity to call the matter settled. That it means toughening even further the ridiculous restrictions on foreign visitors (including students; that it means taking us out of the Single Market; that it means toying with the lives of the EU citizens who have chosen to make a life here; that it means toying with the foundation of the Good Friday Agreement. But throw all that to the wind. Anything to satisfy the little Englanders and bring them back from UKIP. And what are Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition doing about it? Infighting like cats in a sack. And they wonder why they're unpopular.

In the past I've suggested that rather than England dragging the rest of the UK down its isolationist, narrow-minded road, it should just leave the UK. Let the rest of us get on with being a sensible, progressive country and it can go back to thinking it's a 1950s that never existed. Of course, this is somewhat spoiled by the fact that Wales also voted leave. I'm not angry, Wales, I'm just disappointed. Still, on that dismal day, I was at least cheered to see that both my adopted homeland and the Old Country voted to remain. And the whole brexit thing has precipitated fresh discussion about another independence referendum in Scotland, something which wouldn't otherwise have been seriously discussed for years.

There was one piece of major good news this year, fragile though it is. The Colombian conflict between the state and the Farc rebels ended in a 'definitive' ceasefire. Despite the fact that the agreement was rejected in a referendum, the rebels remain committed to talks and the ceasefire remains in force. As I say, it's a fragile peace, but it's a start.

This year also saw Parliamentary elections here in Scotland, with another stonking win for the SNP, although they did see their vote share shrink a bit and no longer have an absolute majority in Parliament. And this election saw Scottish Labour humiliated by being beaten into third place by the Tories. Let that sink in for a moment. The Labour party got fewer seats than the Tories. In Scotland. As much as I had been in favour of Jeremy Corbyn defeating his internal opposition, I must say that I've been disappointed by him. He seems unable to lead the party and form any sort of opposition to the government at all. And north of the border, the party appears to have no definition, structure or principles that they are able or willing to stand up for. They still give the impression that they feel that they should govern in Scotland by right, and until that changes, I suspect they will continue to be spurned by the electorate. I can see that the local government elections in 2017 will continue the flight away from Labour to the SNP and the Tories (although I hope that the Greens will do well out of it as well).

For the second year in a row, I'm going to have to give my Politician of the Year prize to Nicola Sturgeon (or, to give her her official title: Oor Nicky). While everyone else was still flapping after the brexit vote, it was Nicola who was making calm statements and having talks with European Commissioners and Parliamentarians. It's been Nicola and the Scottish Government who have set up a standing council on brexit and who have written a proposal paper outlining options for Scotland within Europe. At every step, while ministers (including the Prime Minister) at Westminster have appeared indecisive, weak and completely lost, Nicola has been statesmanlike, firm and decisive.

Turning to science, while it hasn't been a showy year for space science, this year did see the first announcement of the detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO observatory and with additional work by our very own Institute for Gravitational Research at Glasgow. This is further evidence for the General Theory of Relativity and is quite amazing, a hundred years or so after the prediction. The engineering and precision of LIGO is astounding as well, with incredible sensitivity, being able to detect minute distortions in the fabric of spacetime. Gravitational Wave astronomy looks like it will become an important tool in our toolbox for observing and understanding the universe, especially as further detectors come online across the world over the next few years.

And some good medical news too: following a review by the The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK, mitochondrial replacement therapy (aka "three-parent babies") could get rid of an entire class of diseases, as faulty mitochondria can be detected and dealt with, via a donor, before birth. Hopefully the first child in the UK using this technique will be born in 2017.

In my personal life, I'm really glad that I had taken out an Irish passport this time last year and I'm going to arrange for both my nephlings to also get the same. I hadn't realised just how much the EU was part of my identity until the threat of removing my European citizenship came along. There have been suggestions that individuals may be allowed to keep their EU citizenship, but I'm still glad that I got an alternative, secure way of doing so.

I'm pleased that my relationship with my niece continues to grow (I spent her birthday pushing her around the floor in a cart; the friction burns on my knees were worth it!). I'm mostly waving at my nephew from afar until he starts snottering less.

The new project that I started at work last year has picked up pace and I've finally started doing a bit of programming for it. We're a person down due to a resignation (unusual at my work!) but are (just about) coping. The project has got under my skin a bit, and, as it involves access control, I've found myself peering in interest at door access readers around the city and getting excited by different kinds of smart card.

What with everything that's been happening this year, it's very easy to get depressed and very negative. And I certainly don't think that 2017 is going to be any better, but I've got to remember that human society is on a (general!) upwards trend and has been improving for centuries. Let's end on a positive note, with 99 reasons that 2016 was a good year.

— 31 December 2016

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