A Review of the Year 2019
Watching the end of the ‘teens’ through to 2020 is like driving in hazardous conditions. Distinct events are difficult to discern in the mayhem. Brexit and Trumpism and the Breakup of Britain appear like different coloured smears down the windscreen of a car careering out of control.
The year started with the inauguration of the new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right, pro-gun, pro-torture populist elected in 2018, and ended with failure at the COP25 global climate meeting in Madrid. The two events are not disconnected. As I write Australia (which assisted Brazil in scuppering the UN’s meeting) has registered its hottest day ever in recorded history.
“There’s nothing like going to sleep with the taste of ash in your throat to give you an actual, physiological understanding of real fear.”
As an example of deep denial, Australia may be leading the way, but we’re doing well at this too.
As the Scottish Government prevaricated endlessly about Exxon Mobile’s disastrous site at Mossmorran in Fife, this was the year the global Climate Strikes came to Scotland and Extinction Rebellion exploded onto the public consciousness.
As the full reality of climate breakdown became apparent to everyone, members of the public began to complain if they were incovenienced on their way to
After the school strikes the BBC Scotland flagship news programme The Nine breached its own guidelines on reporting climate change by inviting Andrew Montford, the Deputy Director of the notorious climate science denial propaganda unit, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) to be part of the show.
Last year the BBC was forced to introduce new guidelines after repeated criticism over the past decade for enabling “false balance” on the topic of climate change, as well as for failing to fully implement the recommendations of the BBC Trust’s 2011 review into the “impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science”.
As a result of the invitation all of the Scottish climate campaign groups withdrew from participation in the programme.
The public broadcaster aren’t alone in their failure to be able to cover the climate crisis with any integrity, the failure is found across the media.
If the climate crisis was the ever present story of the year, it was accompanied by the unfolding constitutional disaster of Brexit.
The crisis seemed to be an interminable event, dragging itself across our lives obliterating everything else in its path.
I had almost forgotten that it lead to the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May.
May announced she would step down as Conservative Party leader on 7 June. She broke down in tears as she said serving as prime minister was “the honour of my life”. She was to replaced with the man who Blair McDougall once foretold would never become PM.
DUP leader Arlene Foster told us she hoped the next Conservative leader has “an understanding of what makes the DUP tick”. She said Theresa May had discovered that “when you try to bounce the DUP it simply doesn’t work”.
The DUP are now toast and Boris Johnson is in No 10.
As we teetered endlessly on the edge of No Deal the October 31 deadline came and went.
The race to be Conservative leader wasn’t the only show in town.
The Liberal Democrats opened nominations for a new party leader after the incumbent Sir Vince Cable stepped down on 23 July. He was to be replaced by the youthful Jo Swinson. She lasted under five months before being ejected from her own seat after a disastrously incoherent general election.
On July 23 Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party. He won 92,153 votes against Jeremy Hunts 46,656 votes. After winning the election, Boris Johnson made a short speech outlining his plan. He said:
“Like some slumbering giant, we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity with better education, better infrastructure, more police, and fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household. We are going to unite this amazing country and we are going to take it forward.”
What then followed was an extraordinary five months of chaos and illegality when he was defeated at every turn and managed to lose more votes in a few weeks than any leader had in decades. He prorogued parliament, lied to the Queen and then was elected with a huge majority.
2019 has been the year when Absurdism met Capitalist Realism. England surfing a wave of Nationalism swept Boris Johnson to power on a promise of “Getting Brexit Done” and a series of “Glittering Generalities” that superseded the deluge of stories about his racism his serial lying and his incompetence in office.
None of that seemed to matter.
It was a year when politics appeared to have become a mockumentary about itself with increasingly implausible plot lines.
As the leadership revolving doors continued to spin (Corbyn will be next but showing his usual decisive leadership he’s decided to hang on for a few months) – one leadership swap we can’t overlook is the Scottish Conservatives. At the end of August it was plain that Ruth Davidson couldn’t work with the newly elected Conservative leader and she resigned to a fanfare of media adulation. Jackson Carlaw, the party’s Deputy Leader was asked to stand in and he’s been there ever since. Having overseen his party losing seven seats in a general election it’s remarkable he’s still in post, but that’s the kind of year we’ve had.
2019 was the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The world watched as the year passed with increasing state violence against what had started as peaceful mass protests in Hong Kong defending civil liberties. It soon became clear that the tactics of police intimidation long practiced on mainland China had been imported into Hong Kong and the “one country two systems” era was over.
And if you’re celebrating your clever new phone’s facial recognition – know that that technology comes on the back of repressive regimes in China, and is coming to you sooner than you think.
In Catalonia too state repression and police intimidation was heightened. One Monday morning in September nine pro-independence activists in Catalonia were arrested in a swoop by the Spanish Guardia Civil. They are charged with ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’, the same offenses that the 12 Catalan political prisoners had been accused of.
The operation was conducted under the instruction of the Audiencia Nacional, the Spanish central court that deals with ‘offences against the Crown’ and ‘terrorism’.
The Guardia Civil have said openly that the arrests targeted local groups working under the name Committees for the Defence of the Republic. Those groups came directly from the non-violent grassroots community organisation that was established to organise the referendum on the 1st October 2017 and since then has focused its protests on the political prisoners.
The arrests allowed the Spanish state to heighten political tensions and to raise speculation around a threat of Catalan ‘terrorism’.
In September too the world stood aghast as the Brazilian rainforest burned.
It’s been a year of burning.
Raoni Metuktire the chief of the indigenous Brazilian Kayapó people issued a statement saying:
“Why do you do this? We can see that it is so that some of you can get a great deal of money. In the Kayapó language we call your money piu caprim, “sad leaves”, because it is a dead and useless thing, and it brings only harm and sadness. You have to change the way you live because you are lost, you have lost your way. Where you are going is only the way of destruction and of death. To live you must respect the world, the trees, the plants, the animals, the rivers and even the very earth itself. Because all of these things have spirits, all of these things are spirits, and without the spirits the Earth will die, the rain will stop and the food plants will wither and die too. We all breathe this one air, we all drink the same water. We live on this one planet. We need to protect the Earth. If we don’t, the big winds will come and destroy the forest. Then you will feel the fear that we feel.”
Back home the Edinburgh festival kicked off again with the usual orgy of self-congratulation punctured by a piercing piece of independent film-making “There is No Edinburgh in the Festival”. The film-maker Bonnie Prince Bob broadcast a searing critique of the event as being something that had nothing to do with the place or the people of Edinburgh.
“The Edinburgh Festival is a spectacular exercise on lies, hype and profiteering” he declared. “The Edinburgh Festival is not something by Edinburgh its something done to Edinburgh.”
It was both visceral and viral and seemed to reflect years of dis-content from Edinburgh citizens for an event that has grown and morphed into something vast and corporate and increasingly culturally irrelevant.
The film would be seen by more than 60,000 people and was the most discussed intervention of an increasingly vacuous corporate event.
Just as the year seemed to be ending in a few more weeks of political torpor, Prince Andrew attempted to shut-down the ongoing speculation about his involvement with his friend the convicted pedophile and sex-trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein by offering himself for interview to Newsnight’s Emily Maitliss.
It was, as Suzanne Moore called it, an exercise in “monstrous self-pity and frankly astonishing stupidity”.
The Prince had been advised not to do this interview.
Jason Stein had been hired in September to attempt to “revive Andrew’s reputation”, and he quit after his advice was ignored. One palace source said the BBC interview would “go down as one of the single worst PR moves in recent history”.
Stupid, worthless and forgetful. This is what British meritocracy looks like.
So we end the year with the improbable prospect of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, stubbornly rejecting the reality of a mandate for an independence referendum and the Union on life support – sustained by Undemocracy, a voluntary Union in name only. As the third and final installment of the Star Wars trilogy is released at cinemas, the Empire Strikes Back.
The difference between this and other decades is this. In the past you might have been ruled over by people who you had elected or had voted against, or even by people you violently disagreed with. Today we are ruled over by people who make you ashamed to be human.
As the year ends the smears of authoritarian populism, and the forces driving the break up of Britain are run together and obscure the windscreen completely.