As we pass from one year into another it is commonplace to look back and consider if, in sum total, it was a good or bad time. Naturally, for we are still humans and not yet robots, I expect most of us shall first consider our own situation. We shall remember fondly those close to us we may have lost, hopefully balanced by the arrival of some new recruits to our own circle of close friends and family.
More widely we might consider the passing of those people we cared about who were important to our community; or those that might have inspired us in their brave deeds or teaching, or those that entertained us and others – all of these things giving meaning to who each of us are. Some we might only have seen on screens large or small, but felt that we knew closely.
We might, on reading an historical article or book, hearing a nostalgic interview, or watching a video clip of some past comedy show or drama, feel times in the past were of a higher standard. Watching AJP Taylor talking directly to camera about the causes of WWII – or George Best glide past five opponents before siding a ball into the net, or Sammy Davis Jr tap dancing like no other might make you feel those times were good, even better than now. You might consider the sketches of Monty Python such as the Black Knight in the Holy Grail, or Eric Idle of the Judean Peoples’ Front declaring he will have a baby in The Life of Brian and think how apposite they are for our times now.
Then there’s Morecambe and Wise, whose Christmas Specials I resort to through box sets instead of submitting to the muck and lowbrow sniping of panel games that passes for comedy during the Festive holidays today.
These are, of course, subjective views. Many will disagree with me about the too often poor quality of today’s television, writing, film, music and art – and I’m fine with that. Having differing opinions about culture is what makes it vital and helps it circulate around our society so it remains relevant.
Taking a different view upon the merits of amateur rugby of the past against modern professionalism – or questioning how Hibs Famous Five (or even Turnbull’s Tornadoes) would cope against the physical athletes and technical improvements that makes the best of today’s football so fast and precise pays respect to what was possible in the past.
In 1967 Celtic won the equivalent of the European Championship with a team born within 30 miles of Parkhead; Rangers lost narrowly To Bayern Munich in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup; Hibs put five past Dino Zoff playing in goal for Napoli at Easter Road to overturn an earlier 4-1 defeat in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup and yes, Scotland defeated world champions England at Wembley 3-2. It was undoubtedly a golden period for Scottish football and yet today’s professional teams have better facilities, more finance, better physio and healthcare – yet by international performances comparative standards appear to have dropped.
It echoes the apparent paradox that while methods of healthcare improve, the technology and pharmacy gets better and ever more money is made available many of the measurements of health in Scotland actually are getting worse. It might be cancer treatment times or A&E responses or just getting an appointment with a GP – or the fact that Scotland’s life expectancy has actually shrunk, but such measurements, like those in education, are an inconvenient truth.
In the course of 2018 we have seen so much that is wrong with our political economy, such as the continued growth in food banks, together with the usual supply of natural disasters that play out in front of us. Then there are the warnings of more to come; the threat of leaving the EU with a “Clean”, “Hard”, “WTO” or “No Deal” Brexit (they are different names given to the same event) inciting more scaremongering of a possible 8% drop in GDP and crash in property prices. Have we not heard this all before? When we look back at the last few decades of the warnings about being unprepared for the Millennium Bug, not joining the Euro or introducing a minimum wage the roof has not fallen in.
What surprises me is that with so much bad news, and with so many warnings of more to come people can be optimistic about the future. When recent polls have been taken about Brexit there is a tangible growth in support for just leaving and making the best of it. As one scare about travelling bands or internationals flights has been raised so each has been knocked back down.
In fact when we consider the last fifty years with the doomsday predictions about a coming ice age, environmental catastrophe and population growth delivering a Malthusian cataclysm where too many people will take us over a cliff we can see that such warnings have been completely wrong. Exponential growth in the Earth’s population has been accompanied by a huge improvement in the standard of living across the world, an end to food shortages except for those caused by war and greater life expectancy for all. Improved technology born of man’s creativity combined more open societies and free trade have delivered what economic determinism could not.
It is no coincidence that as the world has abandoned post-war central planning of socialism that sought to control economies and communism that sought to control peoples and moved to an open trading and greater individual freedom that we have made our lives better for each other. The answer to all of the hard questions that we face is undoubtedly to empower people to be able to make choices for themselves rather than for the state to take those choices away from us.
If we hear politicians or those from single interest groups suggesting more public spending on this or more laws restricting that we should be wary about their real motives. The open market is colour blind, it cares not about religion, race, gender or sexuality; it confounds such irrational controls and delivers where planning cannot.
I rather doubt that whatever the Brexit we experience, the decisions that President Trump makes or whomsoever inhabits 10 Downing Street that this march of economic and social progress that as been delivered by reducing the power of politicians will, in the round, continue for the world. In short we have every reason to look forward to 2019, so let’s raise a glass to it.