Essays and discussions

Review of 2013

2013 has been the year of Edward Snowden. From his first revelations in the summer, every time we thought it couldn't get any worse, it has done. The intelligence agencies have done nothing but make things worse for themselves, after each revelation saying that there was nothing more. From wiretapping world leaders to mass surveillance of practically the entire world's communications; from tapping internet backbone hubs to weakening cryptographic ciphers, the intelligence agencies, particularly the American NSA, appear to be out of control. I regard Snowden as a hero, bringing transparency to a hitherto murky and opaque world, and wish him all the best in exile.

Violence in the Middle-East rumbles on, with the war in Syria worsening and ongoing troubles in Egypt, where the first democratically elected government was overthrown after less than a year in power. The Muslim Brotherhood government there had many problems, not least trying to push through a new constitution too quickly and without regard for the country's secular traditions, but I also feel that the reaction was perhaps overblown. Democracy is a slow process, and I feel that the populace, being used to the speed of a revolution, hadn't quite figured out that you've got to wait the full four or five years and kick them out at the next election. I hate the Tories in this country, but I know that I've got a chance to get rid of them soon enough.

Despite the need to bail out Cyprus earlier this year, it's looking like the recession and economic crisis that have plagued particularly Europe for so long may have finally come to an turning point. With positive news coming out of the UK, Greece and other European countries, perhaps the coming year will see positive changes in social, as well as economic, outlook. For the recession across Europe has led to some ugly societal trends. There has been an increase in xenophobia, a rise in class divisions and a nasty attack on the vulnerable in society by some politicians and parts of the media.

In happier news, space is going back to being Cool, although the charge is led not by the US, but by the East: India has launched an orbiter mission to Mars and China has sent the first soft-landed object to the Moon since the 1970s. I really hope that this new interest in space is genuine and will encourage further interest around the world, both amongst the people and with the politicians who control the purse strings.

Alas, there's no sign of such enlightenment in the UK, with the Tory-led government being content with taking the credit for British expertise in small satellite development, such as CubeSats. Indeed, all the social ills mentioned above are present and growing in Britain, under this government. Their ideological attacks on the social care system and NHS are bringing the system to its knees, while they also sell off the nation's assets, whilst simultaneously undervaluing them. I'll admit that I bought shares in the Royal Mail when it was privatised, although this was more ideological than anything else. The Royal Mail was, until that point, owned by all of us, and I wanted to continue to own part of it. If renationalisation comes, I'll happily hand them back, but for the mean time, I'm going to hold on mine for the long term.

This year also saw the referendum campaign in Scotland really start to heat up in preparation for the referendum for independence in September next year. The Scottish Government released their white paper in November, which heated up the debate. Unfortunately, the white paper seems more like an SNP party manifesto than a constitutional document, having very little mention of the questions that I would be interested in (written constitution? Unicameral vs bicameral parliament? etc). On the wider question, if it had been posed three years ago, I wouldn't have hesitated to vote No. However, three years of Tory rule, have seriously made me question that. In that time, it feels to me that Britain has become a crueler, less caring, country than I want to live in. As long as I've lived there, Scotland has felt more left-of-centre than the rest of the UK, and I'm sort of excited about the prospect of being able to create a new, social democratic country. The relentless negativity of the 'Better Together' campaign hasn't helped their prospects to gain my vote either. (On an only very indirectly related note, I've recently started following Brian Taylor's blog – the BBC's Scottish political editor – and find it both entertaining and informative. Recommended for a decent overview of what's going on in contemporary Scottish politics.)

Personally, this has been a fairly decent year for me. I've gained a promotion at work, stepping into the shoes of a colleague who has departed for shores anew. Work continues to be interesting and varied, and with the possible ending of our Ingres database licence, huge amounts of work to migrate systems away from it. I continue to enjoy the company of my friends and colleagues, whether at the pub, board games night or roleplaying, and long may that continue. My niece is yet too little to be interesting (although at least she has stopped crying every time that she sees me) but I look forward to the time when I can introduce her to Asimov, Wynne Jones, Blyton, Clarke and so many other writers that have given me pleasure over the years.

— 30 December 2013

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