Essays and discussions

Review of 2021

So 2021 wasn’t the relief we’d hoped for after 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic continued apace, with governments in Westminster and Holyrood alike failing to make the decisions and take the actions required to control it. Although in saying that, not just one or two, but several different vaccines have been developed for the disease, and in record time, leading to a really impressive rollout, with over 82% of the eligible population of the UK double-vaccinated by the end of the year, and with a booster rolled out to nearly 60% within a couple of months of the programme starting.

Although, of course, even this has a sting in the tail, with the rise of vaccine hesitancy and out and out anti-vaxxers, using a combination of scare-tactics and all-out lies to confuse the messaging and scare people into not getting vaccinated. And then there’s the foot-dragging on the part of the UK’s JCVI on getting the vaccine to teenagers and then children. At the time of writing, the vaccine has been approved for “at-risk” children from five years old, following approval from the age of twelve earlier in the year. Surely, when the uncontrolled mixing of households that takes place in schools is such a potent vector for the disease, vaccinating children must be an obvious thing to do.

Over the Atlantic, 2021 started with an attempt to pervert the results of the 2020 election, with the storming of the Capitol building. Thankfully, this was put down and power was successfully transferred to the new president. And as a result of the attempted coup and his part in it, Donald Trump was banned from all the major social media platforms, which is an added bonus. Biden hasn’t been a flashy president to date, but then that’s pretty much what America needs, I’d guess, someone who’ll put the country on an even keel.

One of the biggest global political events of the year was probably COP26, held in my city. Hundreds of global leaders and bureaucrats all gathered here, to much grumbling amongst the locals as swathes of the city were closed off. Of especial note was the fact that COP delegates got a city-wide travel card that could be used on all forms of transport. Something that the authorities have been telling us for years was impossible.

Less parochially, despite all the hype and build-up about this being the “last chance saloon”, in the end, the result of the COP was underwhelming, with wording to “phase out” coal being watered down to “phase down” to accommodate the big coal producers and consumers. There was perhaps more positive news from outside the conference hall, with groups from around the world gathering to protest and to discuss their own future strategies. I’ve got more faith in change coming from these grassroots groups than from governments and the vested interests that lobby them with vast sums.

At home, we had a second MP in five years murdered while performing their constituency duties. There was less fallout from this than I was expecting, to be honest. As much as I dislike many of them, I hope that we don’t just normalise possible murder as one of the risks of being a politician.

In more general UK politics, the Labour party has finally started to rise a bit in the polls, as the extent of Tory flouting of lockdown rules last year starts to trickle through. This has also led to a bit of a resurgence for the Liberal Democrats, who, against expectations, took a very safe Tory seat in a by-election, called after the Prime Minister tried to protect one of his MPs from a corruption scandal. I’m glad to see that the people of England still have some gumption left in them.

In Scotland, we had a Parliamentary election this year, which led to a roughly similar parliament as its predecessor, with the SNP being the largest party, but still not quite enough to form a majority. Unlike previous sessions, however, the Scottish Greens didn’t just support a minority SNP government with a supply and demand pact, but actually joined them in a coalition, with the co-leaders being given junior ministerial roles. I hope that this will mean a stronger green voice in government, while avoiding being tainted by access to power. So far, at least, it hasn’t led to the sort of fall from grace that the Lib Dems suffered in Westminster when they formed a coalition with the Tories.

2021 is the centenary of Northern Ireland, of the partition of Ireland. This is something that has very different meanings depending on what community you are part of, whether it’s something to be celebrated or regretted. Having made it thus far, I’m not convinced that it’ll make it to its double century.

On Christmas Day this year, the James Webb Space Telescope finally launched. While I’m still a bit grumpy about a scientific instrument being named after an administrator, I was very pleased to finally see it launch. After the endless delays, I was starting to doubt that it actually existed! While there’s still a lot of challenges in getting the telescope deployed, I’m now excited to await the science that the JWST will enable.

I’ve remained working from home throughout the year, although technically, I did move offices. After many years of being threatened with it, we were finally kicked out of our offices in the main building of the University, out to an open-plan office off-campus. I’ve been to the new office exactly once, and I’d like to avoid it as much as I can in future (thankfully my line manager is pretty happy with us working from home). I’d have been happier about returning to our old office - which was a small three-person office with good spacing between the desks - than I am to the hundred-person open-plan space that isn’t even on-campus. As much as I gripe about students, I enjoy the buzz of being around them. An office block overlooking the motorway, on the edge of the city centre, doesn’t exactly have the same vibe.

I was able to see more of my nephlings this year than I did last year, thanks to being part of their extended household. It’s been good to see them grow and develop over the year. My nephew has taken to unexpectedly leaping into my arms without warning, and while I’m touched by his faith that I’ll catch him, I’m worried that it may be misplaced and that one of these days, I’ll not be paying attention and we’ll both take a tumble!

Our board games group went back to meeting in person in the summer, although the rest of my socialising remained online. It was lovely to have that in-person contact again, although with the rise of omicron, that’s also returned to being virtual. It was great while it lasted though and I hope it won’t be too long before we can resume going to each other’s houses. Our RPG group went through some changes this year, as one of the group decided to bow out for personal reasons. We’ve continued to meet virtually throughout the year and I suspect we will continue to do so for a good chunk of 2022 as well. It also turned out that this year, our worst in-game enemies were inanimate objects, in the form of a comfortable couch and a wall. In the couch’s defence, sleeping on it could change reality. The wall, however, was just a wall.

While 2021 has been difficult, there are reasons to be cheerful out there. The development of vaccines against Covid-19 has been immense (although rollout has been very uneven worldwide) and our ability to treat the disease has improved drastically. And speaking of vaccines, this year also saw the development of a vaccine for malaria for the first time. The US has returned to some form of stability after four turbulent years and Nasa piloted an aircraft on another world! To borrow a phrase, there are green shoots of recovery out there in the world. I just hope that in 2022 we can nurture them, not smother them.

— 31 December 2021

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