Essays and discussions

Review of 2015

I usually start these reviews by taking a look at world politics, but between terrorist attacks on Paris, Donald Trump's depressing success to date in the Republican election to become their candidate for US president and worldwide hurricanes and floods this winter, I'm not sure that I can face it. I've said before that I'm more afraid of what governments do for the sake of being seen to do be doing something than I am of terrorism itself, and I still hold to that.

The war in Syria has led to huge amounts of suffering, leading to many people trying to flee that war, something that has, in this country, been described in the media as the 'migration crisis'. I can't see it like that. It is a crisis of people seeking refuge and I am disgusted and ashamed of the poor response of my government, and that of most of Europe, as repercussions from a conflict from which the world has collectively averted its gaze are finally felt around the world. While I'm not convinced about the way that Angela Merkel behaved towards Greece last year, there's no doubting her moral leadership towards Syrian refugees. Germany has shamed the rest of Europe with the number of people that she has accepted this year (some 800,000 compared to under 5000 by the UK). In the UK, I'm proud of the Scottish Government's reaction, and that of many of the Scottish people, as the #RefugeesWelcome hashtag was used widely to welcome those Syrian, and other, refugees who were resettled in Scotland. As you'd expect, some parts of the media weren't happy, but the response of the vast majority of people, from the First Minister downwards, has been tremendous.

The big news in the UK this year has to be the general election. Despite confident predictions beforehand of a hung Parliament, the Conservative party defied expectations and, to the dismay of many (not least, myself), formed a majority government. The Labour party had a lot of troubles in their campaign, some self-inflicted and some caused by the relentless negative media coverage, but the most unexpected outcome of the election was the stunning rise of the SNP. I'd expected them to do well, but it was only when I got up the next morning and was scrolling through the night's events on Twitter, seeing Labour stronghold after stronghold fall that I realised just badly Scottish Labour had done, losing all but one of their seats. That was a small moment of cheer in an otherwise cheerless morning. The Tory majority isn't huge (a working majority of 12) so I'd expected the government to be precarious (remembering the latter days of John Major's government in the 1990s), but so far Labour have been too busy in-fighting to provide much of an opposition, and the Tories have been relatively disciplined, leaving the government comfortably winning almost all of its votes to date. Although in saying that, the Parliament is still young, and the European referendum is still to make its impact.

Speaking of the Labour party, I was surprised and pleased that, in a bout of common sense, they elected Jeremy Corbyn to be their leader. I was quickly disappointed that after his huge win amongst all Labour members other than Parliamentarians his own party continues to attack him at every opportunity. The idea of a Labour party speaking up for labour appears to be a foreign concept to many of its senior politicians, it seems. Something which came across clearly when Corybn opened a debate on whether to bomb Syria with the arguments against, and his Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, closed it with the case for doing so, in a speech which was, tellingly, loudly applauded by the Tories.

There have, of course, been dollops of good news this year as well. One of the most cheering to me was another step in the Equal Marriage campaign, this time following a referendum, the Republic of Ireland, of all countries, has made it legal. That leaves just my homeland of Ulster the only part of the British Isles stubbornly holding out (the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands don't currently allow equal marriage but they all have plans underway to enable them within the next year or two). Even in the Northern Ireland Assembly, a vote in favour has been passed (narrowly), but the unionist parties used a Parliamentary technique (ironically designed to protect minorities) to veto the legislation. Public opinion is shifting rapidly and I am confident that its politicians will see the right thing to do and correct this anomaly (one among many, alas) in the near future.

A couple of years ago, the idea of me awarding a 'politician of the year' would have seemed absurd. This year, I have not just one, but two candidates, both from north of the border. Firstly, our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. She has been a less divisive figure than Alex Salmond ever was, and she was one of the few to come out the pre-election leaders' debates well. She's played her hand very well, and in her stance on human rights, not just for Scotland, but for the UK as a whole. Secondly, I'd like to nominate the astoundingly good Mhairi Black who won a seat in Parliament from New Labour grandee Douglas Alexander at the ripe age of 20 (in the middle of her finals) and then went on to make a barnstorming maiden speech. Since then, every contribution she makes to the House is worthy of note as it's bound to be considered, sensible and compassionate.

Although we haven't done anything ridiculous like harpoon a comet this year, the public's imagination was captured by the New Horizons mission through the Pluto system. This has produced some amazing pictures from a (dwarf) planet so far from our own. And there was another flurry of interest in comet 67P after the Philae lander woke up once it came close enough to the sun for the solar panels to charge the batteries. Closer to home, the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR has been successfully used to cure leukaemia in a toddler. I'm trying not to get too excited, but this looks like it could be the breakthrough in gene therapy that has been predicted for the last decade or longer. And if gene-editing comet-harpooners photographing Pluto isn't enough to cheer you up, then I fear you're beyond my help.

Finally, my personal life has been pretty quiet this year. I've been volunteered on to yet another project at work (my fingers are in so many pies at the moment that Health and Safely will surely have something to say about it) but it's interesting enough. This year I finally acted on something I've been meaning to do for a while: as a citizen of the Republic of Ireland (I was born in Ulster but anyone born on the island is considered a citizen of Ireland) I took out an Irish passport to formalise my dual nationality. This is a bit of a security policy, if David Cameron does end up taking us out of the EU, I'd still like to hold an EU passport (not that I do much travelling, but, you know).

I've also made a little more effort this year to keep in touch with my niece, with the result that she no longer bursts into tears at the sight of me (true story!). She's developing well as a person and has changed, in my eyes, from a little goblin of a creature, only ever scowling out from between a parent's legs into a cheerful little girl who not only acknowledges me, but plays with me. It cheers a soul up no end (not that I'm still not left in terror if I'm ever left in sole charge of her). I do have to go through the whole process again with my nephew now, but at least now I know that positive interaction with nephlings is possible.

My roleplaying group continues to be source of satisfaction and fun, and my board gaming nights have quickly turned into a highlight of my week, bringing new friends into my life who I would not have otherwise have met or got to know as well. While my parents have made it clear that they'd like to see me in a relationship, it's now a case of trying to get me to find a girlfriend rather than just getting me married off. So while the wider world shows little cause for celebration, my friends and my family are on good form and I look towards 2016 with some degree of good cheer.

— 31 December 2015

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