If you’re a political blogger there’s immense pressure to produce something special at year’s end. By special I mean the same as every other political blogger. That is to say, some kind of Review of the Year. I deal with this pressure by not giving a shit. I find this coping strategy to be a bit like the medicinal compound invented by Lily the Pink – most efficacious in every case. Caring about stuff is effortful. So much of the stuff that we’re expected to care about just isn’t worth the effort. If you’ve had your allotted span and still have some caring capacity left then you really want to save it for something special.
Doing some kind of Review of the Year is problematic for me anyway as it’s a task which necessarily tests the memory. I can’t remember the last time I passed a memory test. So, having resolved to take a stab at some kind of Review of the Year, I turned to what so many of us have instead of a memory these days, the internet. I say “resolved”, but truth to tell there’s not much resolution about it. Here I am, barely 200 words in and already on the verge of consigning the piece to the ‘Drafts’ folder to join the article on racism I began about two years ago and all the other false starts that I’ve resolved to finish one day. I say “resolved” but truth to tell… this sentence sounds familiar. How do I get out of this paragraph?
Made it! So! As I was saying, I turned to the internet (I call it that to annoy the pedants who insist it’s actually ‘The Web’) looking for some sort of timeline of 2020 that might kickstart some kind of Review of the Year. I tried Googling (I actually use DuckDuckGo but try saying DuckDuckGoing and prepare for some strange looks) ‘2020 in headlines’. Sport leaves me cold and I see little potential in a review of the year from the perspective of Australian architects, so I clicked a search result that didn’t mention either sport or Australian architects. This looks promising, I thought.
I was wrong. I started to have doubts when the headline below popped out at me.
My heart sank when I came to this one.
Trust me! I know exactly how to pronounce that. Pausing only give thanks for the fact that I live in a civilised country where if after having listened to Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue once too often, you try to lumber your child with some daft name the registrar can tell you X Æ A-12 off and sober the X Æ A-12 up, I moved on – only to find this.
Sport leaves me cold. But I’m not anti-sport. I find Australian architects a poor source of inspiration. But I’m not anti-Australian architects. Celebrity culture irks me. I could well be anti-celebrity, were I to have more than the odd incidental and accidental encounter. The only thing more intellect-suckingly asinine than the concept of people being famous for being famous is people being famous because they have some tenuous connection to somebody who is famous for being famous. And the only thing worse than that is the whole royal celebrity subspecies. The words ‘Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’ are enough to have me desperately DuckDuckGoing ‘Australian architects’ in the hope of rehydrating my dessicated intellect.
I have to say, however, that the last in the list of “22 ridiculous headlines that prove what a wild ride 2020 has been” intrigued and amused me.
It’s not the content that I find entertaining. X Æ A-12 knows conspiracy theories are common enough. And this is far from the weirdest one ever. What tickled me was the fact that there’s no date on it. I suspect this may have been deliberate. It fits too neatly with the well-documented Jewish Lizard People plot to take over the world by keeping us all in a state of fear and alarm for it to be a coincidence. I’d do an exposé but the Sheriff warned me there was to be no more of that.
Next stop on my quest to find inspiration for some kind of Review of the Year – Wikipedia! Surely the timeline of significant news stories in 2020 will be just what I need. There’s a surprising amount. Or so it seems. Looking back at the year as you’re supposed to on Hogmany, what I see is a vast, featureless, beige plain stretching to the horizon beyond which lies only a Wikipedia timeline of 2019. I feel an infinite regression coming on.
At this juncture I had one of those brilliant ideas that make the difference between an average blogger and a blogger who thinks they can look down on average bloggers. The idea was to choose one story from each month about which something interesting might be said and stitch all twelve together to create a picture of the year. Now we’re getting somewhere!
No, we’re not! There’s a snag. January and February are OK. But from late February on it’s all COVID-19. I’ve already written about the pandemic. The only thing I still want so say is that it hasn’t been as bad as the media tries to make out. Not for me anyway. I accept that I may be the exception. But I’ve grown weary of being told incessantly that “we’ve all had a very hard year” when I haven’t found it hard at all. I have been mildly inconvenienced by having to queue to get into M&S on a handful of occasions. If that’s “hard” then I must be extraordinarily good at coping. In fact, I’m probably no more than fairly proficient at finding or devising coping mechanisms. Which is why the year hasn’t been unbearably difficult for me.
Aside from those actually struck by the illness and the people close to those whose lives it has claimed, the folk who found the regime of precautions hard are, I strongly suspect, the ones who failed to adapt to the new reality. If you’re trying to live your normal life in a world that has changed in significant ways from that in which the life you lived became normal, then it stands to reason that you’re going to find it hard going. If you find it relatively easy to adjust to new circumstances then there’s really no reason it should be hard at all.
My wife and I happen to be pretty good at adjusting. This isn’t a boast. It’s not as if we set out to be the world’s most adaptable couple. It’s just some combination of who each of us is and the circumstances we’ve encountered over many years together. Nor am I intending to be smug about it. I know we may not be typical. But I doubt very much if we are truly exceptional. There are almost certainly a great many individuals, couples and families who have adjusted every bit as well as we have. The point is that this means we did not all have a hard year in 2020. Those who use such generalisations are portraying the situation as being worse than it actually is. And surely it’s bad enough.
If you really want to see smug ask me about my weight loss. At this time last year (2019) I weighed 144kg (22st 9lb). On Christmas Eve 2020 I weighed in at just over 104kg (16st 5lb). That’s 40kg (6st 4lb) lost in less than a year (I started the weight reduction regime on 6 January 2020). Nearly 28% of my body weight gone. 12 inches of waistline gone. You bet your fat arse I’m smug!
The adaptability I mentioned isn’t a matter of any particular genius. But there are ‘secrets’. There are ‘tricks’. They won’t be the same for everybody. We find routine helps. That might not suit others. Routine helps with weight loss too. It makes it easier to gauge the impact of your lifestyle on your weight and to make adjustment to how you live so as to get the kilos evaporating. You can’t control what you can’t measure. Routine makes it easier to measure.
Routine also helps give a sense of control and order; which is invaluable when all around is erratic and unreliable. It doesn’t have to mean strict regimentation. In fact, being able to purposefully break your routine on occasion helps give a sense of being in control. It need only be little things. But you have to set the routine first. And maintain it despite the odd ‘lapse’.
Life should not be hard. It certainly shouldn’t be any harder than it needs to be. Not everybody gets a choice, of course. Many have hardship imposed on them. That is something I would change if I could. But I’m not going to feel guilty about knocking an infinitesimal amount off the sum total of human misery by making my own life a bit easier.
My COVID-19 year was not particularly hard. The good in it (losing weight) certainly outweighed the bad (pubs shut). I don’t know if it helps anyone to know that. But we surely have to keep alive the possibility of better? If absolutely everybody is having a hard time, as we are told repeatedly, then this seems to preclude the possibility of better. Again, there’s the connection with weight reduction. If a fat bastard like I was can get slim then surely anybody can. If I can make my life less hard by adjusting to the circumstances then this surely shouldn’t be beyond others.
What about that Review of the Year? Well, what I final decided to do was refer to one news item at the start of 2020 and one at the end of the year. Hence the title of the piece, 2020 – Top ‘n’ tail. In between was all COVID-19 and how we dealt with it. I’ve covered that.
From 14 January 2020 there’s this – Scottish independence: Johnson rejects Sturgeon’s indyref2 demand. The real story isn’t Boris Johnson’s curt and contemptuous rejection of our First Minister’s formal request for a Section 30 order. The real story is what happened next. Nothing! The Scottish Government had no follow-up. Nicola Sturgeon evidently hadn’t planned for something she herself said was “predictable” and everybody else knew was inevitable. She also said the rejection was “unsustainable”. Yet here we are, almost a year on, and Boris Johnson is still sustaining his position with no evident exertion. And Nicola Sturgeon still has no response.
That was the story of the independence campaign in 2020. Nothing happened. Nicola Sturgeon even went so far as to formally call a halt to the entire campaign. Obviously, given the public health crisis, adjustment would have been necessary. Normal campaigning would not be possible. Just as so many normal activities were rendered impossible by the need to combat the pandemic. But I challenge anyone to find another government anywhere in the world which opted to totally shut down all activities relating to by far the most important item on the political agenda.
But I’ve had my say on that. It still rankles. I am still angry. As every Yes activist should be. And the cease and desist order was not, perhaps, as effective as Nicola Sturgeon may have wished. Nothing here should be taken as implying that the Yes movement was idle in 2020. I would single out for special mention the All Under One Banner (AUOB) initiative to create a membership organisation uniting the entire Yes movement. This is the most hopeful development in a long time. Sadly, much of the other activity on the Yes side of the constitutional divide was considerably less hopeful. If not completely hopeless.
As far as the Scottish Government and the SNP are concerned, nothing happened. Nothing was done. Much was said. The rhetoric was rousing. But the words were empty. Nothing happened. The polls shifted in favour of independence. But not because of anything the Scottish Government did with regards to the constitutional issue. Other factors account for the increase. Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the public health crisis has had a positive effect; there’s no denying that. The behaviour of the British government, particularly in relation to Brexit and their treatment of Scotland had an effect. Demographics changed. But these are all factors separate from the constitutional issue. How much of that increase in public support might translate into actual Yes votes? That’s the big question.
It’s a question that’s not going to be answered. Not any time soon. Not if it’s left up to the present leadership of the Scottish Government and SNP. There is no mechanism in place, in planning or in prospect by which public support as indicate by the polls can connect with the democratic process. As things stand, the SNP will go into the 2021 Holyrood elections with no firm commitment to hold a referendum. Or, for that matter, to do any more in terms of the constitutional issue than was done in 2020.
At the top of the year we had Boris Johnson’s rejection of the Section 30 request. What event lies at the tail? I’ve chosen this, Holyrood refuses consent for Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal. It bookends nicely with the top item. On one hand we have the British Prime Minister refusing consent for a referendum. On the other, the Scottish Parliament effectively refusing consent for Brexit. It is the contrast between these two refusals that, for me, sums up the whole year.
For me, the story of 2020 is a tale of British government incompetence and effectiveness contrasting starkly with a Scottish Government that is competent but ineffectual. The British government is effective almost entirely by accident. The Scottish Government is ineffectual almost entirely by choice. It has been claimed on countless occasions throughout the year that the British political elite is ‘making the case for independence’. Or ‘driving people to Yes’. Boris Johnson is supposed to be the Yes movement’s ‘best recruiting sergeant’. Despite all this they have been totally effective as far as stopping the independence train is concerned. It has remained parked in a siding for the whole of the year. It sits there still.
The Scottish Government gets credit for its handling of the pandemic and generally for its management of the country. But it has been totally ineffectual as far as getting the independence train moving is concerned. And lets not forget the bold claims about stopping Brexit. Again, the Scottish Government was shown to be totally ineffectual while Boris Johnson got pretty much everything he wanted despite being a bungling oaf. The year ends with the British political elite looking something like triumphant while Scotland’s political leaders have taken on the aspect of an inanimate carbon rod. By choice!
In many ways – in fact, in almost every way – 2020 has been a continuation of the period since the EU referendum in 2016. With the pandemic thrown in to make it interesting. Take the pandemic out of the picture and all you see when you look at the Scottish Government is that inert lump of carbon.
Some will say that we can’t possibly know what the Scottish Government would have done were it not for the coronavirus problem. But that’s not true. We know that they would have done precisely the same – nothing! Because there was nothing stopping them doing the things people have been duped into believing were nixed by the pandemic. And because there was never a plan to do anything. The talk of a referendum in 2020 was just that – talk. It was never going to happen.
For Scotland’s cause 2020 has to be written off as yet another lost year. More missed opportunities. More precious time squandered. The hope has to be that 2021 will be different. But it will only be different if we act to make it different.
Looking forward into 2021 is for another time. This is the occasion to cast an eye back over the year almost gone and make our assessment. Anyone involved in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence will see only a desert of political inertia and inaction. Some will point to the odd patch of green and proclaim that the desert is about to miraculously bloom. It would be a miracle indeed, absent the will and the effort that is required to make that desert fruitful.
My fervent hope is that 2021 might see some of the old passion restored to the Yes movement. So much of that joyous, exuberant passion that we had in the early days has soured to frustration, recrimination and anger. There is no way to turn back the clock. But it may be possible to cultivate what previously flowered spontaneously. We need that passion. Scotland’s cause needs that passion. Scotland’s political leaders desperately need some of that passion.
Allow me, then, to wish all my readers a happy, prosperous and above all healthy New Year. And let me add a wish for a year in which the passion of the Yes movement spurs our political leaders to the bold, decisive action which is needed to save Scotland from the coming storm of British Nationalism. Let’s make 2020 the last year of the Union.