Essays and discussions

Review of 2020

So, er, 2020, eh? That was a thing. Not exactly the bright start to a new decade that we might have hoped for. We started the year with climate change at the top of the agenda, while bushfires still raged in Australia. There was hope that this was the year that it would break through. Sadly, other events soon got in the way.

For me, February and early March were mostly taken up with strike action, as my union was involved in a number of disputes. At this point, the new virus that was making an impact in the far east seemed very far away. It was only on the last scheduled day of the strike that the picket lines were called off due to worry about the virus and we just stayed home. I went into the office the following Monday to find it nearly empty. I lasted one more day in the office before we were all told to work from home, just a handful of days before the national lockdown in the UK. Covid-19 was well and truly here.

The transition to working from home wasn’t that difficult for me, to be honest. The thing I really missed the most was my second monitor (#FirstWorldProblems), but after it became clear this wasn’t a short-term thing, I pulled down a spare from the back of a cupboard and bought a webcam so I didn’t have to rely on my phone for video-conferencing. I wrote a couple of blog posts earlier in the year about life in lockdown so won’t repeat those thoughts here. I will say that I’ve taken to working from home a lot. Although I like to socialise with my friends, I am mostly an introvert, and the day to day interaction at work was always effort. I do feel for my more extrovert colleagues, who have found the transition much harder than me. Of course, it was also difficult for those who had caring responsibilities, especially those trying to home-school while still working.

Looking at the wider world, after the US senate failed to convict Donald Trump at his impeachment trial, we saw a pretty unusual presidential election. I confess that I was pretty convinced that even if Trump didn’t win the election, he would steal it, and so I’ve been rather pleasantly surprised that this hasn’t happened, although not thanks to lack of trying. He hasn’t officially conceded, but then then he doesn’t need to. The machinery of government will ensure that Joe Biden becomes president in just a few weeks at time of writing. Of course I’m disappointed that even after the evidence of the past four years, over seventy million Americans chose to vote for Trump, and I’m worried about what this means for America’s future. But the most important thing is that more than eighty million Americans didn’t vote for Trump, instead choosing a route back to a more stable politics.

2020 saw the rise of what feels like it could be a watershed movement: Black Lives Matter. We’ve unfortunately seen the death through police brutality of young black men caught on film in the past, but rarely has it created the sort of anger we saw this year. And it seems that it’s starting a wider conversation about how the police operate in the US. Although slogans like “defund the police” sound radical, there’s a lot of depth of thought behind them, and a lot to unpack. It’s a conversation that needs to happen, hopefully sooner rather than later.

This year feels like one where the trans community has been under siege. Things like the delay of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Scotland, and the UK High Court preventing puberty blockers being given to children in England (the position in Scotland, thankfully, is unchanged) as well as the constant attack from all sides in the media feels like the epitome of punching down. (Aside: every time I think that it’s been a while since there’s been a transphobic article in the Guardian or Herald and that maybe I should consider subscribing to support journalism, they pop one out, regular as clockwork! If anyone can suggest any UK/Scotland focussed journalism that hasn’t got this undercurrent of transphobia, please let me know). This is a subject I can only observe from the outside, but I can at least be a clear ally and state once again that I believe that trans men are men, trans women are women and non-binary identities are valid. I don’t understand why this is so hard for people.

Going back to Covid-19, one of the amazing science stories of the year is the drive to treat, cure and prevent it. The speed at which the virus’s genome was isolated and sequenced is incredible. Governments have poured money into ways to reduce the impact of the disease and to develop a vaccine. And in under a year there was not just a vaccine approved for use, but a vaccine based on a really exciting new technology. And just at the end of the year, a second, more traditional, vaccine has been approved in the UK, which will hopefully mean the logistics of vaccinating the whole country (and, of course, the world) will be made easier. Although I’m unsure of the current UK government’s ability to organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery (ferry company with no ferries, anyone?), never mind get two doses of a vaccine to 65 or so million people. Once again, I’ll be relying on the competence of the Scottish authorities, not the UK government.

Final pandemic thought - I’m so glad that it happened when it did. Can you imagine trying to cope with it before we had the Internet infrastructure that we do now? Even a decade ago, we didn’t have nearly the capacity for half the country to suddenly move to working from home overnight, not to mention the streaming entertainment platforms that helped entertain the millions put on furlough leave. (Tangentially, despite their importance in keeping us sane through the year, the Arts have been treated shamefully by the UK government throughout the pandemic, with little to no support for theatres and venues, as well as the artists themselves.)

Closer to home, 2020 finally saw the Northern Irish devolved government reformed after being down for over a thousand days. Between the work the Irish government did then to get it back up, and what it’s done recently covering continued access to Erasumus and the EHIC scheme for Northern Irish citizens, is anyone betting against a united Ireland in the next decade?

I suppose I can’t get away with not talking about brexit, can I? Despite the fact that we’re all a little busy with, you know, a global pandemic, the UK government pressed on with its relentless push to end the transition period at the end of this year. And they seem to have got away with it, with a deal agreed with days to go (details are light on the ground yet, but at first glance it seems vastly inferior to Single Market membership, which is itself, inferior to full EU membership. Following the announcement of the new British variant of Covid-19, France closed its borders, bringing chaos at the ports, and a possible foretaste of a post-brexit world. I hope this deal will have alleviated the worst of that, but see above for my faith in this government.

I eventually formed an extended household with my sister and her family at the tail end of the year. Before that, I had seen my nephlings exactly once since the start of the year. After that, I was able to go and visit them for my niece’s birthday, Diwali, and then Christmas (after the rules changed at the last minute and I wouldn’t be able to go and see my parents). I’m thankful to have this family support relatively nearby, not to mention the tech that lets me regularly roleplay and hang out online with my friends. We might not be able to meet in person, but as someone who lives alone, the virtual gatherings have helped to keep me together this year.

So 2020 has been a tough year for just about everyone (unless you’re a tory cabinet minister’s pal, in which case you’re probably quids in), but we can take heart in the amazing speed of the vaccine development, the fact that the Americans voted the right way and in the countless stories of small kindnesses throughout the pandemic. May the new year amplify the kindness which we’ve expressed to each other this year.

— 31 December 2020

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