A year of allusions to war, when there was none. Sadly, it wasn’t over by Christmas. Wartime was evoked by the social blackout of lockdown and the wearing of masks, as if air raids were expected.
We papered over our mouths and knuckled down. It seemed wrong to complain. Our country needed us.
To what effect, who knows. We made the sacrifice but didn’t defeat the enemy. Circuit breakers and second lockdowns came yet the virus was as strong in December as it was in March.
Save the NHS was the cry, as if it were our national sovereignty. Until doctors cracked and told the Scottish Government that if they’d done more before the virus struck, we wouldn’t be so vulnerable now. It felt like generals who warned about the rearmament of Germany.
We pin hopes now on a lucky bullet, a shot of vaccine, though this seems as hard to organise as every other aspect of our great national incompetence.
We stopped shaking hands but rubbed them together like bankers. Associates of the Tory party did the same, on hearing of the money to be made from PPE contracts.
We baptised hourly in the holy waters of antiseptic yet never seemed to get clean enough.
As the ‘war’ rumbled on the political story was about which government did best. It was like the BBC’s sports commentator’s amusing videos about his two labradors. The joke was both made a dog’s mess of it.
Politicians fought among themselves, their only victories to look better than rivals. In the real world, the UK has among the highest death toll, the greatest debt and the worse damage to its economy.
Chipboard was put up to save windows. Not from bombs, but looters at the beginning of lockdown and rioters as America awaited its election result. We presumed the worst, when muddle and the mediocre prevailed.
Bizarrely an echo of the last war was taking place, between Britain and continental Europe. London struggled to fight its way out of an organisation founded to keep peace. All that co-operation had become irritating to a majority. Only to find that co-operation, whether in pandemics or international affairs, is all we have. Boris’ victory amounts to saying the EU will still thole us.
Britain’s Independence Day, as Johnson called it, was declared a disaster by his rival Sturgeon, who said only Scotland’s independence would save us. A war of sorts, set to rumble on, but with no detail published on Indy, it all felt a bit pots and kettles, sticks and stones, words we’ll never hold to.
The great vagueness of Indy lingered in the room like a Covid cloud, or a silver lining, depending on your point of view, but was largely ignored as the big party fell apart. The fight within the SNP is fought between those who were close allies of Salmond for decades, who broadly dislike him, and those who weren’t, who want him back.
The auld acquaintances of the former FM have made a mess of things. When not betraying brave women by messing up an internal investigation, the leadership cabal dithered on exams, care homes, school terms, transport and the economy. Lions led by donkeys.
The UK did no better. In the year that people stopped going to work – a fact the Tory government used to justify cancelling its house building programme in the leafy southern shires – HS2 and the third runway at Heathrow were also approved. Our prime minister then announced climate change was his priority. It made no sense, but isn’t meant to.
The profound disconnect between the stuff of politics and reality might prompt despair.
But think instead of the ‘respair’ offered by science. A record sprint to a vaccine was just one of the astonishing breakthroughs in 2020.
Humanity also modelled proteins, heralding huge advances in medicine, while getting further to eradicating malaria and better at tackling cancer. Scientists also found water and bacteria in space – revolutionary discoveries. In the war on darkness, the light won.
After a year of war-like conditions at home, we seem OK. Reconnected to our common bonds, we are reminded of the value of our care services, and people’s sacrifice by doing great things on basic wages. The important things of love and friendship and family are more obvious, the consumerist tat less necessary.
From the outset we spoke of Covid dividend, a better world to come. In politics there is no sign of this, no equivalent of the welfare state built from the rubble. But elsewhere, there is much to be hopeful for.
We are still here. Still able to love and to dream. We were put on pause. The vaccine may press play.
What shall we do with this blessing of time and thought, what shall we make?
Our struggle doesn’t end. Our abuse of nature will produce new enemies. But the strange beauty of being human means we will always have a chance of a better year to come.
Good luck, be strong and Happy New Year.