Shetland’s Male-Dominated Public Sphere

The dominance of men in Shetland’s public sphere is a phenomenon I have been increasingly concerned about over the last few years as I’ve grown more politically aware.  Speculating on the reasons why this is the case would most likely result in an ignorant and uninformed conclusion without proper research, so I will not attempt to do so.  However I do want to highlight several areas where I see a problem.

In terms of political representation, Shetland is blatantly governed by men.  Every single Member of Parliament and Member of the Scottish Parliament the islands have elected have been men.  Perhaps this is because few women even make it onto the ballot paper – last year I wrote a letter to the Shetland News outlining the problem:

   “With the selection of party candidates for the upcoming election a relatively topical issue, I decided to take a look back at previous elections to see which parties normally field candidates for Shetland and Orkney.
   Upon doing so I was shocked to discover that every party’s candidate has been a man since at least 1997. There hasn’t been a single woman on the ballot paper throughout all this time.
Wondering whether this was just a fluke, I had a look at Shetland’s constituency for the last four Scottish Parliament elections. In the 1999 and 2003 elections every candidate was a man, while in the 2007 and 2011 elections all the candidates except one were men, the woman both times put forward by the SNP.
   To compare this nationally: 20 per cent of Scottish MPs and 33 per cent of MSPs are women, suggesting that at least a fifth of constituencies had at least one woman on the ballot paper.”

I added:

   “Thus far only the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have announced their candidates for this May’s election, both of whom are men.
   I will be keeping a close eye on future announcements from Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and any other parties to see whether they will allow yet another election to be contested entirely by men.”

Unfortunately, the Labour, Conservative and UKIP candidates all proved, once again, to be men, making 2015 the fifth Westminster election in a row in which there was not a single woman on the ballot paper.  Although still overwhelmingly men, candidates for the Scottish Parliament’s Shetland constituency have continued to see better balance; for example, Labour fielded the excellent Robina Barton in last May’s election.  Nevertheless, 94% of votes ultimately went to male candidates.

As I stated in the letter, the same problem exists in the Shetland Islands Council (SIC):

“I discovered that only three of the 22 councillors are women – just 13.6 per cent. This is below the still shockingly small national average of 24.3 per cent.”

This inequality also includes leadership positions, with both the current Convenor and Political Leader of the Council being men.  As far as I’m aware, this has always been the case.

The same trend occurs if you look into the Shetland Charitable Trust, arguably the second most important public institution across the islands, controlling significant income from oil revenues.  The trustees are appointed from across Shetland society and include individuals with a background in the SIC (including current serving councillors), the police force, the NHS, the Church of Scotland, crofting and marine policy.  A good range of expertise, but unfortunately only two of the 14 are women.  At 14.2% this is virtually the same proportion as the SIC’s 13.6%.  For an organisation intended to provide funding for charitable causes and projects across the isles, this is a stark gap of experience and background.

The dominance of men also seems to include the press.  The majority of journalists in the Shetland Times and Shetland News appear to be men – although granted, this isn’t unusual in a national context.  It’s also true that, although the majority of The Shetland Times’ editors have been men, between 1990 and 2006 it did have a woman editor in Vaila Wishart.  Nevertheless, the current news team of the Shetland Times appears to consist entirely of men.

Moreover, if you take newspapers as a key forum for debate, the pattern continues.  In the most recent publication of the Shetland Times there were eight letters submitted to the editor, all written by men. (Interestingly, six were about the EU Referendum, with four of the six expressing support for Brexit, despite the fact that almost 57% of Shetlanders voted remain.  Is the male-dominance of the public sphere creating a right-wing, eurosceptic echo chamber?).  Similarly, all of the most recent contributions to the Shetland News letters page were penned by men.  Indeed, these pages tend to feature the same men, arguing with the same people, again and again.  In my experience the Facebook comments of the news outlets see more representative contributions – of both gender and age – but these by their nature are less public.

Perhaps the greatest example of all is the Lerwick Up-Helly-Aa, Shetland’s most famous cultural festival.  Women are prohibited from taking part in the prestigious Jarl Squads which lead the procession, ceremonially burn the Viking longship and tour across Shetland.  Their role is instead confined to catering.  The satirical website Da Bonxie recently mocked this, stating:

  1.  Up Helly-Aa is the perfect time to reflect on your failed marriage or relationship and use the opportunity to freely cheat on your partner.
     Lerwick Up Helly-Aa famously bans women from being in squads, so your indiscretions can be completely secret! Better yet, most Shetland women know it’s going on but no-one seems to care! It’s amazing!.
  2.  Up Helly-Aa is a truly special night for women. Not only do they get to let their husbands off the hook as we noted above, they also get to do housework in their glad rags!
    As women are banned from being in a squad, they attend one of 11 halls throughout the town. At these halls, they’re expected to clean, serve, cook, and help men cheat on their wives. Sounds great? Well get doubly excited ladies – you get to do all of this in your best dress and high heels! Incredible!

The Lerwick Up-Helly-Aa is allowed to be discriminatory in this way because, as a private club, it is not bound by equalities legislation.  The issue is becoming a matter of increasing discussion, with a recent (admittedly poorly-attended) Althing debate ending with a vote in favour of gender equality.  More promisingly, the country Up-Helly-Aa festivals allow women to take part, with the South Mainland Up-Helly-Aa even seeing its first female Guizer Jarl in 2015.  Yet, with Lerwick’s Up-Helly-Aa continuing to be the largest of the festivals and possessing the most status, there is still a long way to go for gender equality.  This is not so simple as a misogynistic elite preventing progress, either – there is significant support among the public for maintaining the traditions, as evidenced by this Facebook comment thread.

There are no doubt other areas in Shetland life where gender inequality is also prevalent.  However, I do need to stress that, in spite of this indisputable male-domination of the public sphere, as a whole I do not think Shetland society is significantly more patriarchal than the rest of Scotland or Britain.  Women are as active in the workforce as anywhere else, play key roles in Shetland’s cultural scene, such as in music and literature, are reasonably well-represented in professions including teaching and healthcare, and social attitudes are not generally different to elsewhere.  This makes the male hegemony of several public institutions all the more perplexing, but perhaps also suggests change would not be too difficult to achieve.

Having illustrated the problem, at some point I will probably write a follow-up post in which I try to explain the reasons behind this.  I’ve recently discovered a book called Myth and Materiality in a Woman’s World: Shetland 1800-2000 by Lynn Abrams, the former Professor of Gender History at the University of Glasgow, which looks like a fascinating read I hope will broaden my understanding of gender relations in Shetland.

If you’re reading this and you have any ideas/comments relating to what I’ve written about, I’d be very eagar to hear them!

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New Podcast: The Entellectuals

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A friend and I have recently begun a weekly podcast called ‘The Entellectuals’ (get it?).  We’re hoping to cover a variety of different topics depending on what we’re currently thinking about, or possibly studying in our courses.  Each episode has a general discussion followed by an argument from either one of us, then it concludes with a more light-hearted element.  If this interests you, check out the first episode in which we discuss alcohol, studentsInterstellar and the nature of artistic value.

We have been having some technical issues, unfortunately.  Despite all the online guides saying podcasts are easy to make, it turns out they’re anything but that.  There have been so many problems getting the podcast onto an Itunes feed, something we still haven’t succeeded at doing.  Soundcloud will apparently have to do for now.

Reviewing Modes of Transport [Incomplete]

Having experienced several new modes of transport on my recent holiday to Paris, I thought it’d be worthwhile comparing the different ways humans have invented to get from A to B.  All of these can also be considered pleasurable activities (perhaps some more than others), but the fact we’re not all using the same method of transportation suggests each has their pros and cons.  Why do we choose to travel the way we do?  Here are some of my reasons.

Buses

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who likes buses as much as me.  Most people treat them as a necessary evil to be abandoned by the young as soon as they learn to drive or endured by adults unfortunate enough to be unable to use a car for whatever reason.  I mean, I can’t say I enjoy buses and I certainly wouldn’t ride about them for pleasure; the screeching noise of people packed within layers of metal accompanied by a constant stop-start and eventual motion-sickness is hardly pleasant.  Yet I’ve found buses to be the most useful and cost-effective way of traveling long distances.  And they’re not all bad – if you’re a people-watcher like me you can find the most interesting people on them.  It also entirely depends what sort of landscape you’re traveling across; taking a bus across Shetland is vastly different than across Edinburgh, for instance.   I suppose I could review Edinburgh buses and Shetland buses entirely differently.  On one hand, Shetland buses are generally quieter and pass through the most beautiful scenery; on the other, they’re bumpy, unfit for the topography and so annoyingly infrequent.  I suppose what I’m describing is a love-hate relationship, but I can’t deny that they’re so very handy for my purposes.

8/10

Canoes

I’ve only ridden in a canoe once, up in the Scottish Highlands a few years ago, so I couldn’t call myself an expert on this mode of travel.  An obvious problem is its limitations; there aren’t many places a canoe can take you to.  I suspect they’re too frail to be taken out into open sea for long journeys and lack the storage space for provisions.  I suppose you could travel through canals which would give you access to most major land areas, though you would make slow progress.  No, canoes are primarily used for pleasure.  And for this they are truly excellent – my memories of sliding down meandering rivers beneath overcast trees still fill me with joy.  But for practical purposes, I can’t see them being taken seriously.

5/10

Cars

Oh, cars.  By far the most popular and widely-used mode of transport on this list – there are 32 million cars in the UK alone.  It’s easy to see why.  Cars are undeniably the most practical way of travelling, being able to cover hundreds of miles in a single day without causing severe exhaustion to the driver.  They can be used to drive to work, to travel on holidays or jaunts, to attend events – everywhere except perhaps in the most congested town centre can be arrived at using a car.  Yet, beneath all this, there lurks a dark side to our favourite automobiles.  In environmental terms they’re catastrophic; 30% of US carbon emissions comes from its traffic, while cases of city air pollution are as notorious as they are frequent.  And these millions upon millions of cars are soon to become totally obsolete once we reach peak oil.  Once we’ve transitioned to much more efficient cars (electric cars?  Hydrogen cars?) I’ll have to come back to this review.  They’re also incredibly expensive to operate: from the cost of lessons to insurance to petrol to the car itself, owning a car will set you back many thousands of pounds.  Yes, cars are extraordinarily handy, but come with some heavy costs.

6/10

Cycling
Bicycles are a wonderful thing.  Cheap, efficient and environmentally friendly, they’re growing in popularity among many of the world’s cities.  I’ve never had much opportunity to use them for recreation, firstly due to living in a sparsely-populated rural area and then, when at university in Edinburgh, down to the difficulty I might face when having to travel back and forth from home.  I am beginning to give serious thought to buying a bike to use for traveling around Edinburgh next year for the wonderful positive reasons I’ve listed above, but one thing holds me back: safety.  Cycling remains one of the more dangerous ways to travel.  In a Geography class at high school last year, shortly after accepting my offer to study at Edinburgh, we were using the city as a case study for urban development.  I asked what it was like for cycling, having noticed some cycle lanes near the city, but she replied “I would be terrified to cycle in Edinburgh!”  Given that my cycle route would take me through Princes Street and the High Street – the two busiest streets of the city – I’m inclined to agree.  Cycling should be the unequivocal best way to travel, but poor previsions for cyclists in most cities is sure to put many people off.

7/10

Ferries

Ugh – do I have to talk about ferries?  I do?  Hmph.  Ferries are similar to buses in that they depend entirely on what kind you’re on.  A standard travel ferry is much different to a cruise (I imagine), while the Northlink ferry between Shetland and Aberdeen is much different to the ferry that takes you between the different islands of Shetland itself.  I’ll review ferry journeys like the Northlink ones.  Imagine 12-14 hour slogs across open sea, being entirely bound by the whims of the weather conditions.  Will it be a calm sailing or your shuddering nightmare that refuses to end, minute after minute after minute?  If you have £100 to throw away you can at least hide in a cabin but for common students like myself you have to simply rough it in reclining chairs, ‘sleeping pods’, or anywhere else you can find.  You have to deal with people vomiting around you if the sea is rough – or vomiting yourself – as well as put up with the drunken antics of many rowdy passengers on that poorly-policed ferry.  On my recent trip down I left the Sleeping Pod Lounge ay 2am for fear of a fight breaking out.  And you never sleep, either, causing the agonising journey to drag out even longer.  Yet, it’s not all bad.  If you travel during the summer you have enough light to watch some brilliant views go past through the windows, or it can be quite tranquil just watching the velvet sea.  A lot of ferries allow you to go ‘up top’ to get a better view.  Just be careful you don’t fall off into the sea.

2/10

Horse riding

Horse riding!  Here’s a fun one.  I have a fair bit of experience with this because of the pony stud my Auntie owns.  Well – of pony riding, I suppose.  This can be a very pleasant way to travel as you never feel lonely when with a horse, and can experience the journey in its company.  There’s a very powerful bond you can feel with a horse when you’re riding it.  On the other hand, in today’s age riding horses isn’t a very practical way of traveling at all.  Nowhere is equipped with stables for your horse and they’re far surpassed in speed by most longdistance modes of transport.  I also suffer the unfortunate curse of being allergic to horses – it can make traveling difficult when you can’t see through running eyes.  Horse riding is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable ways of traveling for people who can last a minute without sneezing, but it’s sadly no longer that workable.

5/10

Planes

Airplanes are undoubtedly the Kings and Queens of transport when it comes to long-distance travel.  The idea of traveling between Europe and America, or from Britain to Australia, any way other than by airplanes is unthinkable for all besides the most adventurous.  A journey that would have taken weeks a century ago and months several centuries ago can now be completed within a matter of hours.  What’s more, they’re statistically the safest form of transport.  And yet, I can’t stand them.  A significant part of that is an entirely irrational fear I have, based upon the fact that although I’m much less likely to die in a plane, if I am to die I’d rather drown or be crushed than find myself hurtling to the Earth at multiple metres per second amid burning wreckage.  Sorry, got morbid there.  They also have a terrible impact on the environment, contributing to as much as 9% of anthropocentric climate interference.  There are always news story of various environmentally-friendly forms of aviation, such as solar planes, but these are very far off becoming the norm – or even practical.  Airplanes are a necessary part of our modern globalised world, but like cars they come at a massive cost.

5/10

Dammit, WordPress.  I had another 1,500 words [needlessly] reviewing the remaining forms of transport on this list, clicked ‘publish’, got an error message then found it had all gone.  I don’t have the energy or the will to write it all again, so I’ll leave you with summaries for each one and this video summarising my feelings.

Subway: exciting rabbit warrens, incredibly useful, though the stench of urine and angry shouty people (still don’t know what that Frenchman way saying to me) are two minor negative aspects.  8/10 

Taxis: can be a lifesaver but expensive and not environmentally friendly. 5/10

Trains: I LIKE TRAINS. 9/10

Night trains: These are even better. 9/10

Walking: Fun, good exercise, hippy stuff about experiencing the world around you; but not good for long distances. 9/10

Image credit: By Vince pahkala (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How to Help Someone Experiencing Grief

About two and a half months ago I learned that my Dad had died.  The death of a parent, being an occurrence in most peoples’ lives, is the sort of thing you occasionally wonder how you would deal with but never really give serious consideration (not least because that would be unbearably morbid) and certainly isn’t something you can prepare for.  In this instance my Dad’s death was not completely surprising, if still out-of-the-blue, which may have numbed my reaction to it, as well as the fact that I hadn’t had regular face-to-face contact with him for several years – although we’d stayed very much in touch.  Therefore my experience of grief may not be as sharp or overwhelming as that experienced by others who’ve lost a parent, but nevertheless I think I’m in a position to give some advice on the best ways to help someone that is experiencing it.

Because grief isn’t something anyone really knows how to respond to unless you have extensive experience of it.  Our society has quite a strong taboo on the subject of death, I suppose because mortality is scary, and I certainly wouldn’t have known how to respond if one of my friend’s parents had died.  Maybe this is just me but I always felt very awkward whenever someone’s bereavement came up in conversation since I knew I had no way of empathising with their loss.  Then when my Dad did die I suddenly felt as though I could relate to everyone else I know of who’ve experienced similar losses, which I think is an overly simplistic way of looking at it; everyone experiences grief differently.  If you can’t necessarily relate to someone’s individual grief even when you yourself have experienced a loss, no wonder it’s challenging when you haven’t.

That said, the support I received from friends, other family members and university tutors was absolutely incredible, showing me just how many wonderful people I have in my life.  Without their support I’m really not sure how I’d have got through it.  By writing this post I don’t mean at all to suggest the support I received was in any way deficient; my purpose is more to relay the things I’d have liked to know about grief before I experienced it myself (…if that makes sense!).  So, drawing entirely from my own experiences and in the full knowledge that this may not apply to everyone, here are some ways I would suggest you can help someone experiencing grief:

Be there for them.
An obvious one.  I was astonished at how so many of my friends, many of whom I hadn’t even known for very long at all, rallied round to offer me their company, condolences and support.  My initial reaction upon hearing the news was a fear of being on my own – for whatever reason – and, through the kindness of my friends, I didn’t have to spend any time on my own for the next 24 hours, by which time it had begun to sink in.  I often felt incredibly lonely during the weeks which followed but there was always someone willing to meet up for a chat.  There’s no way you can fill the gap the bereaved person has left in your life, but I found surrounding myself with people did ease the overwhelming nature of that gap.  On the other hand, there will also be times when the bereaved person needs time alone, which most people also recognised.  I think the best strategy, is to tell the person that you’re available if they ever need someone to talk to – and make clear you really don’t mind, as our society also seems to discourage asking people for things.  This lets them decide how much company they need without feeling they have no space to grieve privately.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the bereavement.
This could be entirely subjective, but after my Dad died all I wanted to do was talk about him.  I wanted to remember the things I liked about him, bring back long-buried memories… I suppose I wanted to resurrect him in my mind.  I think the initial reaction most people have – it’s certainly how I’ve always reacted – is seeking to avoid the topic for fear of saying the wrong thing.  Again, this could just be me, but in my experience I think it’s very difficult to say the wrong thing.  You don’t even really need to say anything, just listen.  They’ll talk about as much as they feel comfortable discussing.  I think talking is also a way of simply getting your head around this massive event.

Keep in mind grief doesn’t follow a pattern.
I think there’s an assumption that grief is a process which hits extremely hard shortly after the bereavement, perhaps after a brief period of numbness, but gradually improves over time.  This isn’t wrong, but in my experience it definitely hasn’t been that straightforward.  If you were to make a graph of grief, rather than look like this:

grief graph 1

For me, it looked more like this:

grief graph 2

The massive spike in the middle of the second graph is admittedly artificial – my Dad’s cremation – while the relatively subdued nature of the beginning was due to my attempt to block it out while remaining in Edinburgh before returning home, but the point I’m trying to make is that my experience of grief varied extremely rapidly.  Sometimes I’d be fine when I had no right to be fine, such as during the 24 hours after hearing the news, while weeks later I would break down with no apparent trigger.  It’s definitely improving over time as I’m coming to terms with it, but there are still moments when it feels overwhelming.  So what I’m basically saying is that don’t assume the bereaved person is doing better just because time has passed.  I think in most cases the grief actually has to get a lot worse before it gets better.  So when you’re being there for the person, I’d say make sure they know you’re still there if they need to talk or any other support weeks later – though at the same time without smothering them (grief is complicated and weird)…

Try to follow their needs.
Since none of us can read minds I’m aware this is virtually impossible, but what I mean is that the bereaved person may switch between wanting to do something fun as a distraction and then feeling upset and needing company within a matter of minutes.  This is a natural part of how all over the place emotions can be during grief.  I’d say just try to go with what they seem to need at any particular moment.

Remember grief is confusing.
I think the most noticeable reaction to my Dad’s death was the way it messed with my cognitive abilities.  My short-term memory completely broke down – it felt like I just couldn’t keep remember anything –  while my sleeping patterns became slightly erratic.  I wasn’t acting in entirely normal ways; for instance, one day I made a sudden decision to board a train to the countryside somewhere in Fife, with no pre-prepared plans, which anyone who knows me can testify is not the sort of spontaneous action I generally take.  I just felt an irrational need to get out of the city to somewhere peaceful.  I also found it difficult to communicate things to people in the way I always tended, and occasionally felt quite incoherent in my thoughts.  So just bear this in mind also when someone’s been bereaved.

As I said, grief is a different process for each individual person, but hopefully these are some comments which can at least give you a vague idea of how to help someone experiencing it.

2014 Predictions

New Year is rapidly becoming my favourite ‘holiday’ celebration.  Why?  Unlike Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and most of the others, it actually seems to have a purpose that’s neither religious nor consumerist.  Although not the greatest fan of fireworks, I do enjoy using New Year as an opportunity for reflection on the year past, and to take a look at the year ahead.  I do this for my own life – though that would be dreadfully boring to put on this blog – but I’m also increasingly trying to do it for the world at large.  The rushed predictions I made for this year turned out to be 65% correct; next year I hope to beat that record!  I’m going to split the predictions into categories rather than just focusing on exciting/dull political developments as I did for this year.  So, without further ado, here are my 2014 predictions:

UK Politics

  • The Coalition will survive to the end of the year, but the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will really start ramping up the rhetoric to differentiate themselves from one another.  The Liberal Democrats will focus on the social liberal policies while remaining economically right-wing.
  • European elections: The Conservatives will lose out massively, perhaps dropping to 15-20%, while I expect Labour to lead at maybe 25% or so.  UKIP will, of course, dominate the news, and I expect them to come a close second to Labour but they won’t have a massive breakthrough.  The Liberal Democrat vote will collapse, falling below 10%.  The Greens will (hopefully!) keep at least one seat, while I think the SNP will make some gains in Scotland.  There won’t, however, be a clear leader in the election.
  • The Scottish electorate will reject independence in the upcoming referendum, but it’ll be closer than most are currently predicting.  The share voting Yes will be above 35%.
  • We might finally get some decent policy announcements from Labour.  Maybe.

Elections Worldwide

  • The constitutional referendum in Egypt will go ahead and provide a Yes vote, resulting in parliamentary and presidential elections later in the year.  I expect Sisi will run for president, or push a figure from the military.  These elections might not be completely rigged but I don’t expect their results to be universally accepted.
  • Libya will finally end up with a government by the end of the year, which will be more liberal-leaning than many other post-revolutionary governments in the region.
  • North Korea’s ruling party candidates will be returned to parliament with 100% of the vote.
  • Iraq will struggle to hold parliamentary elections within an increasingly violent atmosphere; Shia candidates will narrowly achieve a majority over Sunni and secular alternatives – Nour al-Maliki will probably continue as Prime Minister.
  • The European Parliament as a whole will see a massive rise of national eurosceptic parties – like UKIP – gaining seats in the legislature.  Otherwise, perhaps a small shift towards the left?
  • The Bharatiya Janata Party will defeat the ruling Indian National Congress in India.
  • The Fidesz Party in Hungary will consolidate its rule, leading to increasing concerns of authoritarianism in the country.
  • The ANC will be re-elected in South Africa, although with a smaller majority than in any other post-Apartheid election.  President Zuma’s popularity will continue to decline nonetheless.
  • In Sweden the Social Democratic Party, in alliance with the Greens, shall sweep to power.
  • Despite mass protests against her government earlier this year, I expect President Rousseff shall cling onto power in Brazil.
  • The Democrats shall take control of the United States Congress, finally ending the gridlock upon American politics. (I can dream)

Other World Developments

  • The Syrian conflict will become so depressing I’ll probably stop writing and talking about it.  The death toll shall pass 200,000, the government and Islamic radicals will become increasing winners at the expense of the population, and the international community will twiddle its thumbs while Russia, Iran and Hezbollah more and more start to call the shots.
  • The Sochi Winter Olympics will pass without too many more terrorist incidents.  There will be heightened international criticism of Russia’s human rights record, which will then be largely forgotten once the media coverage dies down.
  • We’ll be seeing a lot more about the travesty of oil-drilling in the Arctic.
  • There will be another coup, either in Africa or Asia.
  • Something big will happen to a South American country.
  • At least two countries will become more democratic.
  • Keep an eye on Ukraine – I expect certain elements of the country to increasingly resist Russian influence.
  • China’s economic growth rate will recede although still stay above the majority of countries in the world.
  • The dictator whose political demise I’ll predict this time is Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of Algeria.

Cultural Predictions

  • Doctor Who: Steven Moffat will announce plans to resign within the next year, potentially followed by an announcement of a successor.  The return of an undivided series structure, alongside the return of multiple-episode stories (not yet announced) will improve series 8’s standing in my reviews.
  • Radiohead will release their ninth album, and it shall be amazing.
  • J.K. Rowling will publish her sequel to The Cuckoo’s Calling, which will become an instant best-seller.

 

Review: My 2013 Predictions

Last year I wrote a list of predictions for what I expected to occur across the world stage in 2013.  I’ve been looking through it over the year, pleased with some predictions, while despairing as other world events swept passed my expectations.  Here I’ll review each prediction, one by one, and tally up my score to see whether I should become a professional psychic or not.

UK Predictions

  1. Our next Holy Monarch of Divine Highness to Rule Over Us All Forever blah blah will be born.  Everyone will go nuts and the republican minority will grumble.
    Prince George (‘of Cambridge’) was born on the 22nd July 2013 in good health.  The BBC and other broadcasters had around the clock coverage; he was on virtually every newspaper front page; and we republicans did indeed grumble.
  2. The coalition will continue on its path, though plans to create individual identities for the parties will become clearer in preparation for its end.
    Economically the coalition government has continued to assault the country with austerity upon austerity.  Just this month, chancellor George Osborne announced another billion pound cuts from government departments.  The economy does seem to be improving, at long last, however Labour leader Ed Miliband is rightfully bringing to attention a ‘cost of living crisis’ (perhaps because he has few other policies worth discussing).
    In terms of party politics, there doesn’t seem to be the separation of identities between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats I’d expected.  The Liberal Democrats have been highlighting their key policies of this government, such as raising the income tax threshold for low earners and pushing free school meals.  Yet, if anything, they’ve seemed to me to be moving further to the right.  When Nick Clegg stood in for David Cameron during a recent Prime Minister’s Questions, he sounded more and more like a Tory with each passing question.

 World Predictions

  1. The war in Mali will see some form of conclusion: Northern Mali will return to government control.
    Correct!  In January, following an Islamic rebel advance upon the south of the country, when it looked as though the capital Bamako itself might be under threat, France began a military campaign against the rebels on 11th January.  In one of the more successful Western interventions of recent times, the rebels were driven out of most major settlements in the north by February and had returned to government control.  Violence is persisting but the government remains in control with the help of French and African Union peacekeepers.  Elections came soon afterwards, during which Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, former Prime Minister from 1994-2000, became the President.
  2. The Assad regime will fall.  Failing that, the rebels will increasingly control Syria.  I expect them to receive more support from the West and the government to lose Russia’s backing.
    Uh, no.  No.  And no again.  News stories coming out of Syria during 2013 and have been getting more and more depressing, with no prospect of change coming soon.  The Assad regime did not fall; in fact, it looks stronger than at any other point during the course of the war.  In May, Lebanese Shia armed group Hezbollah entered the war on the regime’s side.  Its fighters flooded across the border and helped the government seize control of the strategic city of al-Qusayr and the surrounding countryside.  The rebels have also made gains, however more and more militias have been swearing allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda linked Islamic fundamentalist organisation which has been making advancements against more moderate rebels in what’s described as a ‘civil war within a civil war’.  The death toll continues to mount: in September France estimated 120,000 people to have died, while the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights currently puts it at 160,000.
    In terms of international support, Western powers have continued to supply non-lethal equipment to the rebels, while in June US President Obama announced military aid would be supplied to the rebels, although it’s unclear how much ever arrived.  Recent developments concerning the rise of Islamists have caused even this aid to be suspended.
    Meanwhile, Russian support of the regime has only strengthened.  This became clear following the increased reports of chemical weapon use across the country.   Both sides blamed each other, of course, but after particularly horrific attacks in the Ghouta area of Damascus the international community seemed to demand action.  It looked as though Western nations – primarily the USA, UK and France – were preparing to launch military strikes against Syria to send a message to Assad.  However, when the UK Parliament voted against action and Obama looked close to defeat in Congress, this never came to be.  At the last minute, Russian President Putin came to the aid of both President Assad and Obama by proposing an operation to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.  Despite difficulties accessing all the chemical weapons depots, some in contested areas of the country, the process of destroying them seems to be going successfully.  This has had the effect of restoring legitimacy to the Syrian regime, which is seen as an equal partner in these negotiations, and the West effectively giving up on Syria.
  3. Obama’s next year as President will not be dramatic.
    In hindsight, it’s probably a bad idea to predict anything won’t be dramatic.  Alongside the aforementioned Syria crisis,  he’s had to put up with threats of war from North Korea, the failure of his proposed gun law reform, the shutdown of the US government after political gridlock in Congress, a botched roll-out of his key ‘Obamacare’ policy and, perhaps worst of all for Obama, massive leaks about the level of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of US and international citizens by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which has brought international condemnation and affected relations with countries including Brazil and Germany.  He’s probably very glad for a new start next year.
  4. A war will not start over Iran.
    Correct!  There’s actual much cause for optimism over out future relations with Iran.  Everything seemed to change with the election of the moderate Hassan Rouhani in June.  Though far from a radical – he’d never have been allowed to run otherwise – the fact that so many Iranian voters opted for the least conservative candidate has sent a clear message to the ruling elites that they want change.  Perhaps this is why Rouhani has been given something of a free reign to pursue his policies.  He held a phone call with President Obama in September, the first time the presidents of either country have spoken directly since the 1979 revolution which brought the current Iranian regime to power.  Then came a historic agreement in which Iran finally agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for the easing of sanctions.  There’s much progress to be made, but also reason to be optimistic.
  5. Angela Merkel will be re-elected in Germany.
    Correct.  Merkel achieved her best ever result in September, gaining 41.5% of the vote and nearly achieving a majority in the Bundestag, ensuring her a third term as chancellor.  After months of difficult talks, her Christian Democratic Union agreed to enter into a ‘grand coalition’ with the opposition Social Democratic Party.  Merkel certainly seems to be bucking the trend of European leaders being brought down by the financial crisis – she’s in a stronger position than ever.
  6. Libya will finish its transition into democracy on paper with success.
    Um.  Not really.  Kind of?  Well, Libya has avoided descending into complete anarchy, but there are still many incidents of armed militias operating outwith the control of the government, the most frightening case being when Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from a hotel, although he was safely returned.  A timetable for national elections still hasn’t been established, but it’s hoped that Libya can have its first post-revolutionary government by the end of next year.  So really, I suppose, it’s too early to say on this one.
  7. Egypt will head down its route of democracy with a very Islamic tint.  Morsi will bring stability to the country – at long last.
    Hahaha, oh, how wrong is it possible to be?  Unfortunately not.  To save me repeating the dramatic events of the 3rd July, you can read the post I wrote about it at the time.  Since the coup, things have only got worse.  Protests have continued from both sides, pulling Egypt down into further instability.  This culminated in a horrific massacre where dozens of protesters were killed by security forces.  The ruling military regime has since strengthened its hold on power, imposing curfews and recently branding the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi’s party, a ‘terrorist organisation’.  The country is appearing more and more to be under the grip of a General new to the scene, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, currently appointed as Deputy Prime Minister.  Elections are expected for next year, which Sisi is widely predicted to run for.  In short, I couldn’t have been more wrong about Egypt.
  8. Berlusconi will not be elected in Italy.
    Well, technically, Berlusconi was elected to the Italian Senate, but if we assume I meant elected as Prime Minister then I got this correct.  Italy’s election this year left no party in a position of power, meaning multiple parties had to come together to form government, including his People of Freedom party.  However, the Prime Minister of this unstable government turned out to be Enrica Letta of the Democratic Party.  Berlusconi himself has been involved in continuing scandal after scandal, being recently convicted of tax-fraud and sentenced to four years in prison (none of which he’ll actually serve due to his age), and barred from political office for six years.  Subsequently, he was expelled from the Italian Senate.  I wouldn’t underestimate Berlusconi, but I can’t imagine his career recovering from this.
  9. The Afghanistan campaign will appear more and more hopeless.  Peace talks with the Taliban will develop.
    Pretty much.  I haven’t been following this in too much detail, but I’m aware of various talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government being on, off, on again, off again, and so on.  Really not much seems to be happening in the run up to NATO’s withdrawal next year.
  10. I expect more crises from North Korea.
    Yup.  There was that strange period last April when North Korea threatened war against South Korea, Japan and the USA which I referred to earlier – I don’t think anyone knows what that was really about.  Needless to say, that came to nothing and North Korea soon quietened down again.  I imagine it was an attempt by Kim Jong-un to create a warlike atmosphere within the country to further entrench his rule – nothing increases loyalty like giving people a common enemy.  Then, even more shockingly, earlier this month Kim had his very own uncle executed as part of a wider purge.  I wrote about it here.  Nothing which has yet threatened to spiral out of control from the perspective of the West, but erratic and worrying behaviour nonetheless.
  11. Iran’s economy will continue to plummet under sanctions.  Possibility of something dramatic happening.
    Pretty much.  I largely covered this earlier.
  12. This is a completely wild one: Robert Mugabe will no longer be in power in Zimbabwe by the year’s end.
    Unfortunately, Mugabe is still President of his long-suffering nation.  My reasons behind this prediction were Mugabe’s age, having turned 89 this year, and the fact an election was due to be held earlier this year.  However his health seems to be as strong as ever, while the election this year re-elected him in very fraudulent conditions indeed.
  13. There will be at least one coup.  And likewise, at least one country considered a dictatorship will become more democratic.
    I’d consider events in Egypt earlier this year to be a coup, so got that one right.  I think Mali could count as having become more democratic, having achieved mostly free and fair elections after a year of chaos.  I can’t think of any other standout examples, which is a shame, but Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2014 report (due to be published fairly soon) might shine a light on this.
  14. Burma will continue down liberalisation and democratisation.
    This is really impossible to say.  Again, I await the Freedom in the World 2014 with great interest.  I’m going to take the lack of any particular evidence to the contrary as evidence that Burma at least isn’t backsliding.  Aung San Suu Kyi did recently announced that her National League for Democracy plans to contest the 2015 general election – widely hoped to be Burma’s first free election – even if the constitution isn’t amended to allow her to run for the Presidency.  Which seems to be a good sign.  Hopefully.  I really don’t know.  I think I’ll give myself this one…
  15. Hugo Chavez: difficult to predict.  I’m gonna throw this out there and say his health improves and he’s able to continue as President.
    Nope – President Chavez of Venezuela died of cancer on the 5th March, later to be succeeded by his Vice-President, Nicolas Maduro, who seems to be carrying on his divisive legacy.
  16. Al Shebab will be almost completely pushed out of Somalia.
    Despite continued advances by Somalian and African Union forces against Al-Shabab, they’re far from having been cleared from the country and still control much territory, particularly in rural areas.  So wrong on that one.
  17. More than two Arab countries will see increased protests and violence.  Potentials: Syria, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Sudan, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Lebanon.
    This was unfortunately a pretty safe bet.  As I wrote earlier the death toll in Syria continues to mount; there have been continued protests and unrest in Sudan, though not coming to much; Egypt has had what were tipped to be the ‘largest protests in history’ which deposed President Morsi; April was the deadliest month in Iraq since 2008; Libya’s been having increased issues with militias, as I indicated earlier; and Lebanon has had increased bombings, assassinations and clashes as the Syrian Civil War continues to spill over.
  18. Julia Gillard will no longer be Prime Minister of Australia.
    Yes.  She was ousted earlier than I expected, having her position as leader of the Labor party usurped by Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister.  The Labor party was then met with disaster in the September election, losing 17 seats and its tentative majority to Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, ending 6 years of Labor Party rule.
  19. Putin will consolidate his dictatorship in Russia.
    To be honest, his dictatorship was rather consolidated anyway by the end of 2012, but it certainly hasn’t weakened.  He’s continued pressing forward in policies such as the ‘anti-gay laws’, infringing the rights of LGBT people.  Things have become more interesting in the last month in the run-up to next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi: Putin granted an amnesty to many high-profile political prisoners, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the remaining two members of Pussy Riot and the ‘Arctic 30’.  Perhaps this is a big to improve Russia’s standing among the international community.  He must have been shaken by two bomb attacks in the last couple of days in Volgograd, which might be part of a continuing campaign by Cechen rebels.  But nevertheless, his authority in Russia seems pretty powerful.
  20. The Mars Curiosity Rover will make more discoveries which fail to interest the public.
    Yeah, I’ll give myself that one.  There have been many discoveries on Mars, including pretty strong evidence that it once had running water.  That’s more interesting than I expected, but I don’t suppose it’s something the majority of people noticed or continue to think about.
  21. Netanyahu will be re-elected in Israel.
    Yes!  Sorry, that explanation mark makes me sound more enthused about this than I am.  See more here.

Overall, I seem to have actually fared better than I expected, having been more or less correct on 65% of the issues!  Tomorrow I’ll publish my list of predictions for 2014 – watch this space.

Masters of Foxhounds Association

It’s Boxing Day and I’m slightly bored, watching BBC News.  Something about foxhunting flashed across the screen, kindling my curiosity about a practice I know little about.  To find out more I took a look at their official website, ‘Masters of Foxhounds Association’.  On this website you can see photos of cute dogs, looking wistfully across stunning country landscapes alongside wise men posing in front of their farms.  Here you can choose to ‘find a hunt’, where glorious slaughter is merely a click away.  Unfortunately they don’t have a Shetland branch, but there are 11 across Scotland I could choose to join!

Oh, but what’s this?  Another link, titled “The Case for Repeal” ?  Apparently foxhunting was banned by the Labour government in 2004.  Does this mean I can’t join one of their organised massacres after all?  Here you can find a most eloquently worded and intelligently expressed case for repealing the Hunting Act.  “The prejudice, misuse of science and abuse of parliamentary process that saw the Act onto the statute book…”  This note of prejudice from such an unbiased source is particularly convincing, as well as the highly detailed explanation of how science was ‘misused’.  “The Hunting Act is unique in that its effects are entirely negative,” they say, clearly not paying attention to parliament’s legislative output of the last 30 years.  Even more shockingly, “it does nothing for the welfare or conservation of the species it claims to ‘protect’. In fact it is detrimental to their welfare.”  My heart weeps for those poor foxes who remain shamefully safe with their families.

To continue: “After some 700 hours of parliamentary time the Act was eventually driven through the House of Commons in a single day following a blatant breach of parliamentary protocol. It was then forced through using the ultimate constitutional sledgehammer, the Parliament Acts, which was used for only the fourth time since 1949.”  This is such a blatant breach of parliamentary rights that they don’t even need to explain it – we should simply feel the illiberality within our racing blood.  “The measure of a true democracy is tolerance: tolerance of minorities and, in particular, tolerance of activities that the majority might not support.”  Indeed, 8 out of 10 people don’t want the act repealed, but they’re absolutely right that minority opinion should be safeguarded despite this – and I therefore look forward to their successive campaigns for the legalisation of murder and rape.

My enthusiasm unable to be contained, I’ve decided to send an email to their general inquiries at info@mfha.co.uk.

Hello,

I’ve been reading through your website and I’m excited to get involved in any way I can.  I’ve just read Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory and I found the way in which the protagonist Frank treated animals most inspiring.  I particularly liked the bits where he blew up rabbits with dynamite and subjected a wasp to 12 different kinds of deaths.  This is the sort of thing I would love to get involved with.  I have two cats who both enjoy hunting very much and a Shetland Pony to ride on.  They won’t know what’s hit ’em!

Yours faithfully,

Charles Fox.”