Orcadian Column 22/12/2016

After much deliberation, and on balance, I have come to the conclusion that I will not be too sad to see the back of 2016.

Granted, it delivered some memorable high points for me. Being re-elected to serve the people of Orkney for another five years in the Scottish parliament was an unbelievable honour. Truth be told, I am still a bit shell-shocked at the scale of what happened in May’s elections but will certainly do my best to live up to the trust that has been placed in me.

The overwhelming sense, however, is that the last twelve months have been characterised by an unrelenting stream of bad news. Whether it has been the barbaric carnage in Syria; the unfolding refugee crisis across Europe and beyond; or the sort of wholly indiscriminate and now all too frequent attack like that visited upon Berlin this week, watching the news of late has not been for the faint-hearted.

Add to this, and I accept that political opinions on the following may differ, votes for the UK to leave the European Union and Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States, and 2016 has been for many what might royally be described as an annus horribilis.

In a ‘post truth’ age, where we are told that people are ‘tired of hearing from experts’ it is difficult to know how to begin to turn back the tide. A progressive, liberal and internationalist approach to tackling issues at home and abroad is currently under siege from a variety of populist appeals to anything but our better natures. While I firmly believe that becoming more inward looking and less compassionate actually diminishes our ability to find answers to the profound challenges we face, the opposite perspective is clearly seductive to many. Turning this around will not be easy, particularly at a time when divisions within our politics and communities are so entrenched.

Amidst all this, of course, cultural and sporting icons have been dropping like flies since the turn of the year. David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen; Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and Andrew Sachs; Victoria Wood, Terry Wogan and Ronnie Corbett; even the Great Ali finally lost his long, brave battle with illness as our stockpile of ‘national treasures’ was well and truly ransacked on an almost weekly basis.

I appreciate this is hardly the sort of litany to get you in the festive mood and for that I apologise. Even for a nation of whom it is often said that we are never truly happy unless we are truly miserable, it is perhaps all a bit much.

There is always the possibility that 2017 will usher in a new sense of optimism. I say this more in hope than evidence-based expectation. After all, The Donald has yet to be sworn in as US President and triggering Article 50 on the road to #brexitmeansbrexit is still just an ill-defined twinkle in Theresa May’s eye.

On the other hand, ignoring the evidence seems to be part of the zeitgeist so perhaps I should just go with the flow. That being the case, as well as a renewed commitment to collective action to tackle poverty, disease and conflict worldwide, I look forward to Sanday finally breaking their hoodoo and winning the Parish Cup: my (as yet not formed) band headlining at GlastonBurray and, of course, all four Ba’s going doon the water to herald in the new year.

Whatever your hopes and aspirations for the year ahead, I wish you a peaceful Christmas and a happy and healthy 2017. Now will someone just make sure that Felicity Kendall, Stephen Fry and Mick Jagger are safely wrapped in cotton wool?!

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