Essays and discussions

Review of 2023

Once again, it seems that war has dominated the international scene in 2023, with the war in Ukraine continuing, and seemingly moving into a slow, attrition phase. And then we have the war in Gaza. Following the awful strike by Hamas against Israel, there was an horrific and seemingly indiscriminate retaliation against the civilian population of Gaza. Both these conflicts have shown how weak that international institutions are, with none of them able to intervene in either case.

Closer to home, Nicola Sturgeon resigned as First Minister of Scotland, after eight years at the helm, to be replaced by Humza Yousaf. She's been an oddly divisive figure, but I've been a fanboy from the early days, and regard her as one of the great figures of the nation, this century. This was also the year that the UK government first blocked a legal Act of the Scottish Parliament, as the Gender Reform Act was blocked, despite it being passed by a huge majority of our Parliament, and was relating to devolved areas. I'm furious about this, and about how trans people are being trampled on as part of the culture wars. I would expect nothing better from the tories, but I'm completely contemptuous of Labour, who have stood by silently, and seem happy to throw anybody under a bus, if it gets them a handful of extra votes.

Honestly, I want to get the tories out of government (which is something that I hope will happen in 2024, as there should be a general election), but I have very little faith in New New Labour to do very much that's worthwhile. If the tories had brought back child labour, Starmer would probably haver over reverting that, due to the effect on the economy. He's a spineless coward and I expect I'll be just as ashamed of him as prime minister as any of the tories we've had in the last decade.

The spate of industrial action in the UK has continued for much of this year, in England and Wales, at least. The Scottish Government has managed to come to agreements with unions in multiple sectors, including the railway and medical unions. This has meant that disruption has been much more limited up here than it was down south. It shows what can be achieved when there's no ideology getting in the way of negotiations.

In my own sector, we've had mixed results. We've out and out won the USS pensions dispute that has been ongoing for so long. I still shake my head at the fact that the last valuation of the scheme was carried out right at the start of the first lockdown. A glance at any stock market graph shows that the market fell enormously, but then recovered within days. It was right at the bottom of that dip that USS decided to do their valuation. We've said all along that that was the wrong course of action and that decisions based on that were invalid. A new valuation this year has proven us right, and all cuts that were implemented following the last valuation will now be reversed, and both employee and employer contributions to the scheme reduced, and benefits restored.

However, on the Four Fights dispute, we've made very little progress. In the summer, the union pressed the nuclear button and went for a marking and assessment boycott. This didn't have nearly the impact that we'd hoped (especially as participation was patchy, at best). We've also lost our mandate for action, as the last ballot didn't reach the 50% threshold to be considered valid under the current legislation. There have been a number of actions and decisions made by the national union and general secretary that I consider to be suspect (not least letting the mandate expire and leaving it until the autumn to reballot). There will be an election for general secretary early in 2024 and it'll be interesting to see if the current GS survives.

Despite my hopes for the year, roleplaying in 2023 has remained virtual. There's a number of reasons for that, but I'm still hoping that we'll get some in-person sessions this coming year. In our regular weekly game, our GM has been avoiding his massive "Hypercrisis" crossover in our superhero campaign in the hope we'd be playing in person before running it. This year, he finally gave up and decided to run it virtually. It's been several years since we played that game and it was fun to get back into it. The rest of my socialising is pretty much back to how it was pre-pandemic. I'm still wearing a mask in supermarkets and on public transport, and expect that this will be a permanent change in my behaviour from now on. I'm not as good with masking as I should be, but I'm still trying.

Sometimes it seems that the world is on fire, but people can still be awesome. From the ones who give up their seats on the bus to a pregnant woman, to the ones who put on silly costumes and run marathons for charity, to those who risk their lives in warzones to help others. From curing lupus to vaccines for skin cancer, we're still capable of great and wonderful things. Here's hoping for more of that, and more kindness, in 2024!

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