Essays and discussions

Review of 2017

This year, while we haven't had the major political events of 2016, we've started to face some of the consequences. Trump might be beleaguered to some degree but he's still holding his own and I fully expect him to remain in the White House until 2020, if not 2024. That's assuming that between them, Mr Trump and Mr Kim don't end the world. The issue with Trump is less the man himself, but everything around him – the way he conducts himself, and the freedom he's given to the alt-right and neo-nazis to step out of the closet because they see this man who's saying (or, at least, implying) the things that they've been saying and he's getting away with it. In tandem with this is the constant undermining of the rule of law and politics, something clearly described by Wendy Brown in this article (and which does, of course, tie into comments about being "sick of experts" on this side of the Atlantic as well).

Speaking of this side of the Atlantic, I must confess that I laughed my head off when Theresa May called a snap general election this year and saw her slender majority wiped out. Schadenfreude yes, but I'll take what joy I can in this godsforsaken cesspit of a year in politics. This did, of course, lead to a supply and demand deal with the DUP, who now support her government on a case by case basis, in exchange for an extra £1 billion for Northern Ireland. As an Ulsterman, I've got to approve of this, but I haven't exactly seen much evidence of it being spent (and the cynic in me asks just how much will go to areas in NI that didn't support the DUP). Jeremy Corbyn has silenced his internal critics for the moment by his performance in the election, and his energising of young voters, but how many of them think that Labour will oppose brexit? And how many of them will be disappointed when they won't?

Speaking of, the idiocy of brexit continues apace. I've not written about this at all this year, mostly because I'm still really angry about it and the people who voted for it. Unlike some, I have no confidence that the Labour party have any interest in reversing it, or even having a second referendum – the Labour party have been quite pathetic when it comes to protecting us from the worst excesses of the stupidity, and opposing the tory government on that. I'm pleased to see the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon doing their best to soften the effects, but I fear their influence will be minimal.

The general election wasn't the only election of note this year. Following Martin McGuinness's resignation as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, an election was called, which saw the DUP's majority cut to just one, but talks failed to produce a government, and there has effectively been direct rule from Westminster in Northern Ireland since then. With the DUP supporting the government in London, and Sinn Fein, as usual, refusing to take their seats, combined with the continuing stalemate at Stormont, it seems that there is no voice being heard in the corridors of power other than that of the unionists, something which surely cannot continue.

An interesting side effect of the DUP's alliance with the Tories is that many their policies have come under much more scrutiny from outwith Northern Ireland itself, and their socially regressive stances on gay rights, abortion and others have come under the microscope. It's tempting to ask where all these hand-wringers were before June 2017, but better late than never. There's now a push from some for the UK government to push through changes while the Assembly is in stasis. Personally, I'm uncomfortable with this, as it does seem to be bypassing local democracy, but then if the local politicians can't see beyond the Irish language to reinstate the Assembly and its government, then that's their problem.

While there wasn't any showstopping science or tech news this year, lots of thing are progressing apace. LIGO and its sister projects discovered several more gravitational wave events, including two colliding neutron stars, and my pal Becky got an actual Science Medal for her work as part of the collabaration. This is exciting stuff, and as more detectors come online in other parts of the world, we appear to be at the dawn of a genuine new form of astronomy. Elsewhere, Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully tested a reusable rocket, in the form of the Falcon 9. This is very exciting for making it cheaper to access space, but it's also part of a trend that sees private companies, not states, doing a lot of the experimentation in this field, and I do worry that it could end up with fragmentation and privatisation of the sphere. In medicine, the CRISPR technique is finding more and more new applications and hopefully some of them will come through the trials and into clinical use over the next few years.

In my personal life, my relationship with my nephlings has continued to develop. My niece has, for the first time, started to include me in her imaginative play and I've started to interact with my nephew as well, as he starts to grow up a bit. They're both starting to turn into Real people, rather than just fragile, smelly things to watch from afar, and I'm pleased to be part of their lives.

At work, the first phase of our major access control replacement project has completed, and, for something of its size and scale, I'm please by how well it's gone. Yes, I did accidentally lock all the medical students out of their building one night, but it was a Learning Experience! We finally hired a replacement for the team member in the autumn and she started just before Christmas. I fear it's going to be difficult both for her to learn and for us to teach her the various complexities of our environment, but once done, it'll ease the pressure on us somewhat.

Finally, this year has been as bruising as its predecessor. I see that the marvellous President Obama has been tweeting his good news stories of the year to cheer people up, and so in that spirit let's end with some good news. Firstly, here's another list of good news stories of 2017 and looking specifically in Scotland, we've seen a number of positive things happen this year, including universal baby boxes; beginning to use our tax adjusting powers to create a more progressive tax policy; and a number of councils starting to look seriously at universal basic income. All these things combine to make me prouder still of making my home in Scotland and I look forward to them bearing fruit and changing the country for the better over the next several years.

— 31 December 2017

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