So 2020 arrives with news that two genuine Orcadian stalwarts, Jean Leonard and John Copland, have been recognised in the New Year Honours list. I’m delighted that both are to be awarded MBEs for services to music and farming respectively, though this barely scratches the surface of the contribution they have made to our community over many years. The honours system has its critics, with good reason, but recognising those such as Jean and John whose excellent work has touched the lives of so many, seems entirely appropriate.

As an avid Ba fanatic, no doubt John also appreciated two titanic contests over the festive period. While the Uppies overwhelmed the Donnies in the Boy’s Ba, things were far more delicately poised in the Men’s Ba, if anything about the Ba could ever be described as ‘delicate’. With both sides so evenly matched, it was perhaps no surprise that it took over six hours for the Doonies to come out on top on Christmas Day, and likewise for the Uppies to prevail on New Year’s Day. Both battles ebbed and flowed throughout, providing a fascinating spectacle for the sizeable crowds that came to watch.

Of course, as fiercely fought as these contests undoubtedly are, and as passionately ‘tribal’ as both sides feel about their allegiances, the Ba is founded on mutual respect and often friendship. It’s hard not to contrast this with the political situation at present, characterised by divisions, notably along constitutional lines, where invariably opponents are treated as ‘enemies’ and opposing views are dismissed as without value.

In truth, the start to this new decade has been deeply sobering. Australia is in flames, with horrific images over recent days showing fires raging across the country taking lives, destroying wildlife and habitat and causing untold ecological and economic damage.

Then came news last Friday that Iranian military commander, Qasem Soleimani had been assassinated in a drone strike ordered by President Trump. Amid appeals for calm, Iran has threatened ‘severe revenge’.

As Democratic Presidential candidate, and former US intelligence officer, Pete Buttigieg said at the weekend, “taking out a bad guy is not a good idea unless you are ready for what comes next". He went on to ask, “was there any preparation for the secondary effects and the effects that are going to come after that from an extremely provocative act that both of the last administrations decided not to do in one of the most volatile and unstable times in one of the most volatile and unstable places in the world?”

Time will tell, but this feels like an exceptionally dangerous moment. Soleimani certainly had blood on his hands and posed a serious risk, but it is far from clear yet whether his death leaves the world any safer.

Coming back, meantime, to matters closer to home, I’ve been giving some thought to what is in my own ‘inbox’ as we enter 2020. I’m not really one for new year’s resolutions, but there are issues on which I believe progress is long overdue.

For example, the Scottish Government simply cannot put off any longer reaching agreement with OIC on funding for replacement vessels on our internal ferry routes. Recent months have exposed again how desperately fragile these lifeline services are when reliant on vessels that are no longer fit for purpose. Getting Ministers to deliver on their long-promised commitment to introduce RET on Orkney ferry routes is also high on the list.

Similarly, on mental health, more urgency needed. Despite its higher political profile, mental health is still not treated on a par with physical health. People struggling, who reach out for help, often find it is not there or arrives too late by which point problems have become crises.

And on the environment, the ambitions set out in legislation must now be matched by action on the ground to tackle the climate emergency. This process must be informed and proportionate, but dragging heels is not an option.

This is just a flavour of what is currently in my inbox. I look forward to taking on these and other challenges over the coming months. Meantime, whatever lies ahead, let me wish you all the best for 2020.

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