Essays and discussions

Review of 2022

This is hardly the first time I've said this, but I'm tired of living in Interesting Times. Can we please have a few boring years now? Unfortunately, 2022 didn't deliver in that regard, starting with Putin's bizarre decision to invade Ukraine, through the UK perma-crisis, the summer of three Prime Ministers, and the death of the Queen. All to the background of the ongoing covid-19 pandemic that much of the world is now pretending is just over.

Despite Putin's strong-man reputation, and penchant for going around shirtless, I thought that the posturing over Ukraine was just that. I never expected him to actually invade. And what a nasty surprise the huge amount of resistance must have been. Expecting a quick win that he could parade on TV, and ending up getting bogged down in a land war in Asia. I mean really. I have nothing but respect for Ukrainians and what they're going through. Both the ones in the country and those who had to flee, not to mention the existing diaspora looking on in horror.

And that invasion led to international condemnation, and lots of sanctions, including (eventually), on oil and gas produced in Russia. This has led to hardship in Europe, as so much of our natural gas comes from there. So as supplies have dwindled, prices have risen hugely, leading to a large rise in inflation. While in the long-term this may be no bad thing, if it hastens the transition to renewable sources of energy, in the short-term it's a bit of a disaster. Not least of which is due to surging inflation, which is being caused by many things, but the gas supply issue is definitely a part of it. Although, as usual, the tories in the UK have made things worse, and our inflation is higher than much of Europe. The UK response to the inflation seems odd as well. I'm no economist, but the increase in prices isn't being driven by consumer demand, so how will increasing the price of borrowing (to reduce demand) help?

One thing that the high inflation has, of course, led to is higher pay demands for workers. Especially in the public sector, after a decade of pay suppression, workers are at breaking point, and demanding large pay raises to help with the surge in the cost of living. This has led to the greatest degree of industrial action in decades, as medics, transport, education, the civil service, and more all have valid industrial action mandates and are using them accordingly. It makes my little socialist heart swell, even when it causes inconvenience to me. I completely support the demands across all sectors. The public sector especially, has had pay artificially depressed for over a decade now, and that's not a viable way to run any sort of service.

With all that's going on in UK politics at the moment, it's easy to forget that it was all kicked off by tories telling us to stay isolated, while they partied. I've got no problems with the isolation part - that was entirely necessary - but the fact that senior members of government were ignoring their own instructions finally made the British people angry enough that Boris Johnson was considered more of a liability than an asset. And that eventually led to the fiasco of the Truss government, which lasted less time than the famous lettuce after a "mini" budget tanked the economy.

Now, Labour finally have a comfortable lead in the polls. The question is, can they maintain that lead in the face of a hostile media and huge amounts of billionaire money being pumped into the tories? And an election that is still a full year away. The English have this really bad habit of voting tory, and I don't trust them not to do so again, even when the ruling party has behaved so badly for so long. (I've said for some time now that the best way to deal with English nationalism and the Scottish desire for independence is not for Scotland to leave the Union, but to kick England out of the UK.)

In the Old Country, we're back to the familiar situation of being without a government, yet again. This time, the DUP are throwing a hissy fit because they've been overtaken as the largest party by Sinn Fein and the implications of the brexit that they campaigned for coming home to roost, and they don't like it.

In more positive news, after multiple public consultations and years of debate, the Scottish Parliament has finally passed the Gender Reform Bill, to make it much more streamlined and less medicalised to get a gender recognition certificate for trans people to live in their new gender. Even this didn't pass without the TERFs coming out in force, and with the tories doing their level best to filibuster it out. Some of the language used in both the media and in the chamber itself was divisive at best, and hateful at worst. I very much hope this is the last gasp of a fading bigotry as the decisive margin of victory of the bill shows that a clear majority in Parliament is in favour (I was pleased to see that even one of my tory list MSPs broke from his party and voted in favour).

2022 started with a mini-lockdown in Scotland that lasted the month of January, before restrictions being systematically removed through the spring. It definitely feels like we've gone too quickly with some of these - particularly the lifting of masking requirements in public places. After that went away, I noticed that there was some inertia that meant people still wore masks for a couple of weeks but now it's very much the exception, not the rule (and yet, I still see people wearing masks under their noses. I don't understand that at all! These people are wearing masks by choice now and they're still not wearing them right!).

Personally, although I very definitely still wear masks on public transport and in supermarkets, I've started to get lax about other situations. I'll wear one in the crowd going into and out of the theatre, but not while I'm seated, and although I try to wear one in shops, I sometimes forget. I've given up entirely in pubs and restaurants. It's amazing just how much I'd relied on the peer pressure of everyone else doing it, and without that, it's so easy to drift out of the habit.

Over the course of this year, I've gone back to mostly in-person socialising. Board games were one of the first things to go back, followed by the weekly pub meet for old university friends. Although a couple of theatre visits had got cancelled due to the lockdown at the start of the year, they got rescheduled and I started going back regularly again. I love the theatre and going back has been one of my favourite things this year. Unfortunately, I'm fairly confident that the first event I went to without wearing a mask throughout was also when I finally got covid (it totally wasn't even worth it, it wasn't even a great show). That meant that I missed Satellite 7, the SF convention that I'd been looking forward to since it was originally postponed in 2020. Thankfully, having had three doses of the vaccine, I ended up with a very light case of it. Although even with that, I didn't start testing negative for a good ten days, and avoided people until my LFD was negative (despite government advice to only isolate for five days).

My one social activity that has remained virtual throughout 2022 has been roleplaying. Both my games have continued to be online, although there are hopes that that may change in 2023. The regular weekly game has been a source of delight throughout the year, as it has been for the nearly two decades that we've been playing together as a group. The monthly game has been a little erratic this year, mostly due to scheduling issues, but it did give me the opportunity to gleefully declare that I was going to eat cake, and end up taking custard damage!

As I said above, this has been a year of strikes across the economy, and the university sector was no exception. We had a per-institution mandate in the early part of the year, which my branch passed and so took strike action for a bit. However, the patchy nature of the mandate meant that only around half the universities in the country were affected, which meant that there was minimal pressure on the employers to negotiate. The union was finally brave enough to go for a consolidated ballot later in the year, meaning that all universities were affected. We passed that comfortably, and ended up taking a few days of strike action in November, with plans to ramp it up in 2023, if a settlement can't be achieved. I hope that the sector-wide mandate will concentrate minds, and with the very positive numbers from the latest USS update, hopefully there's scope for a deal with regard to pensions as well.

2022 has been another difficult year, but it's one that has, once again, made me very grateful for all the good people in my life: my family, my friends, and my colleagues. And for the amazing things that remind me that people aren't all awful. This year we (finally!) launched the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest optical telescope in space, with a sensitivity well beyond Hubble (which is, itself, still incredibly valuable, working well beyond its designed life expectancy). We also took another step towards using nuclear fusion for energy (although given that fusion is well known for being thirty years away, and has been since the 1940s, I'm still cautious on that). And a revolutionary new technique gives hope for cures for cancers that were previously thought incurable. These awesome things, along with the kindness of loved ones, and of strangers, give me hope, and will carry me into 2023.

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