Monday, 15 June 2015

Permanency and Parliaments

The latest Twitter storm in relation to the Scotland Bill concerns the very first clause. It is being claimed that the Commons has voted against the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, and that therefore the Smith Commission proposals have not been upheld.

This is untrue.

Amendment 58, moved by the SNP, proposes to change the wording of sub-clause 1(1), which amends the first section of the Scotland Act. The Bill's original wording simply provides a new section which would read as follows:

"(1A) A Scottish Parliament is recognised as a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements."

The proposed amendment would read:

"(1A) The Scottish Parliament is a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitution. 
(1B) Subsection (1) or (1A) may be repealed only if—
(a) the Scottish Parliament has consented to the proposed repeal, and
(b) a referendum has been held in Scotland on the proposed repeal and a majority of those voting at the referendum have consented to it."

It is being maintained that, by voting against this amendment, the Commons has voted against making the Scottish Parliament permanent.

It is certainly the case that, so long as (1B) were to be on the statute book, there is a significant political obstacle to the repeal of the Scotland Act or the removal of the Scottish Parliament. The political cost of not having procured consent of Holyrood and the Scottish people, having made a written commitment to do so, would be enormous.

In terms of its legal effect, however, this additional sub-clause does not add anything at all. If the concern of the movers of this amendment is that (1) or (1A) might be repealed, one presumes by ordinary legislation in the Westminster Parliament, what is to stop exactly the same piece of legislation from repealing (1B) in the same piece of legislation? Nothing. Any scenario in which the repeal of (1) or (1A) would be in issue could also see (1B) in the firing line.

This actually relates to more fundamental problems with the drafting of the Scotland Bill. The recommendation of the Smith Commission in relation to the permanency of the Scottish Parliament is essentially constitutionally impossible, so long as it is accepted that the Westminster Parliament is legislatively supreme and may make or unmake any law.

The proposed (1A) by the government does not actually make the Scottish Parliament permanent either. It says that it makes it permanent. But what does that mean? If Westminster passed the Abolition of the Scottish Parliament Act that purported to repeal it in its entirety, who would actually stop the Parliament from ceasing to exist? Not the courts. They would take their instruction from the most recent and unambiguous words of the Westminster Parliament. This is no greater legal protection of the existence of Holyrood than the Scotland Act as it stands.

If you were to make the Scottish Parliament permanent, you would need a codified constitution, and you would need to abolish the Westminster Parliament, or at least find a mechanism by which its legislative supremacy is "permanently" or irrevocably constrained. No provision in the Scotland Bill is capable of doing this, because of the principle that no Parliament may bind its successors.

Even if (1A) were capable of making the Scottish Parliament permanent, in terms of the law, (1B) arguably weakens, not strengthens, the protection, by providing a specific exception to the provision of (1A). Any logic that argues that (1B) is immune from repeal must accept that (1A), without (1B), is immune from repeal.

The principle that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people should both have a veto over Holyrood's abolition is a perfectly sound one. Neither the government's clauses nor the SNP amendment deliver this.

We need a constitutional convention!

Monday, 8 June 2015

This is not the veto you were looking for

A common refrain from the Scottish National Party in recent days has been that the Scotland Bill is not living up to what was agreed in the Smith Commission. The key complaint seems to be that there is a "veto" for the Secretary of State for Scotland over the introduction of or alteration to welfare benefits falling within the Holyrood Parliament's competence.

What they appear to be talking about is a restriction on the Scottish Ministers making regulations concerning devolved aspects of Universal Credit. Here is what the Smith Commission said about it:

"43. Universal Credit (UC) will remain a reserved benefit administered and delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Within this framework, the Scottish Parliament will have the powers outlined in paragraphs 44 to 45 in relation to UC.

44. The Scottish Government will be given the administrative power to change the frequency of UC payments, vary the existing plans for single household payments, and pay landlords direct for housing costs in Scotland.

45. The Scottish Parliament will have the power to vary the housing cost elements of UC, including varying the under-occupancy charge and local housing allowance rates, eligible rent, and deductions for non-dependents

46. The power to vary the remaining elements of UC and the earnings taper will remain reserved. Conditionality and sanctions within UC will remain reserved."

The key points are therefore as follows:

1. Universal Credit is to remain, generally, a reserved matter, administered mostly by the UK Government's DWP.
2. The Scottish Government is to be given some flexibility in certain administrative and minor policy provisions in relation to it.

Now let's look at the provision in the Scotland Bill to which this "veto" relates. It appears to relate to the power to make regulations in respect of how much housing benefit someone is entitled to, who it's to be paid to, and how frequently. Pretty dry stuff. Sections s24(4) and 25(3) are the ones that contain this so-called "veto" power. Their wording is identical. It is as follows:

"The Scottish Ministers may not exercise the function of making regulations to which this section applies unless—
(a) they have consulted the Secretary of State about the practicability of implementing the regulations, and
(b) the Secretary of State has given his or her agreement as to when any change made by the regulations is to start to have effect, such agreement not to be unreasonably withheld."

The wording of this, to me, seems pretty clear. The nature of the duties and rights here do not relate to whether or not a set of regulations may be made, but when their implementation should take place. It is an administrative function to ensure DWP is ready to alter Universal Credit payments in line with whatever regulations the Scottish Government decides to make. This explains the consultation on the "practicability" of the "implementation" of the regulations in sub-clause (a), and suggests that the requirement to consult does not relate to whether or not any change should happen. This is re-enforced by sub-clause (b) which restricts the Secretary of State's ability to withhold agreement "as to when any change made... is to start to have effect".

This is important, because it means when Stewart Hosie said, on the Daily Politics earlier today:

"If the Secretary of State, the sole Tory left in Scotland, decided not to give his agreement, for whatever reason, he or she has a de facto veto and therefore the spirit of the Smith Commission is breached before we even get going."

He was wrong. Firstly, because refusal cannot be "for whatever reason". It must relate to the practicalities associated with the timing of the implementation of the regulations. This is not a veto. If the Secretary of State refused to give his consent because he or she disagreed with the principle of housing benefit payments being increased, or made more frequently, his or her decision could be subjected to legal challenge as using a power for an improper purpose, or for taking into account irrelevant considerations, two well-established common-law grounds for judicial review, and ordered to be retaken.

This is re-enforced further by the second part of the sub-clause, which provides that "such agreement [is] not to be unreasonably withheld". This, in effect, means that if the Secretary of State is to withhold consent, he or she must be able to show that it was reasonable to withhold consent with respect to the timing of the implementation of the regulations. He or she would likely need to show evidence of administrative difficulties meeting the demands of the Scottish Ministers' regulations from the DWP, and failure to do so might additionally have the decision struck down by the courts for irrationality if no such obstacles can be identified.

If the Scottish Government's powers with respect to Universal Credit were to be administered by a Scottish Government Department, it might be reasonable to say that consent in some form of the UK Government was unnecessary and unreasonable. This is not, however, what the Smith Commission proposed. It proposed that Universal Credit be a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions. This provision is one intended to facilitate logistical integration between Holyrood regulations and Westminster departments. It's not a political ploy to stop Scottish politicians implementing different welfare policies from the rest of the UK.

Put at its simplest: this is not a veto. This is what Smith promised.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

What good is a nuclear deterrent that doesn't deter?

On Monday, the first of the East Renfrewshire hustings took place at St. Ninian's High School, organised by Eastwood Ecumenical Peace & Justice Forum. One of the issues that was raised was the question of the renewal or non-renewal of the UK's Vanguard submarines, the vessels that carry Britain's Trident nuclear warheads and which are based on the Firth of Clyde.

A lot of people have strong views on nuclear weapons. Some think it is inherently immoral to possess, let alone use them, while others think they are vital to our national security. This creates an unhelpful impasse, where there is little room for common ground.

It has long been my view that the question of the nuclear deterrent has to be looked at in more dispassionate and calculated terms than those of the current debate. Not to do this means that the deterrent is renewed almost by default, without giving proper consideration to the tangible defence advantage it purports to offer.

At the hustings, both Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and Tory candidate David Montgomery described Trident as a "nuclear deterrent". It is almost taken for granted, even by those in favour of multilateral disarmament, that Trident is in fact a deterrent. I must confess, however, that I cannot see how this is the case.

The dilemma

I asked an admittedly multi-pronged and complicated question, but one that this ultimately boils down to. The question is this:

Is there a foreseeable or even plausible set of circumstances where:

1. The UK is prepared to fire a nuclear weapon at an enemy, AND
2. The US is not prepared to fire a nuclear weapon at the same enemy, BUT
3. The US is nonetheless content to permit the UK to fire a nuclear weapon at the enemy in question?

I suggested to the room that no such scenario exists. If I am right, then it also takes our enemies, current, future, real or hypothetical, no more than a matter of minutes to reach the same conclusion. If they don't think that any action they take will result in, but only in, a UK nuclear missile being fired at them or their people, then no actions, nuclear or otherwise, are deterred by having Trident-armed nuclear submarines. Put simply: it is not a deterrent. The game is a bogey.

Phantom threats

The response from both Jim and David was to insist that we do not have a crystal ball, and that we cannot know what kinds of threat we might face in the future. Well, fine, but by the same sentiment should the NHS stock an expensive vaccine for a pandemic-strength disease that has a 0.00000000001% chance of killing a million people, or should it spend the same money on something more likely to be called upon to save as many lives? Both Jim and David then admitted they could not think of the set of circumstances in which, hypothetically, the UK would fire a nuclear weapon.

Criteria for use

If anything, something that Jim went on to say simply strengthened the point. He said that the UK has a clear policy of adopting only a second-strike policy and that it would only fire a nuclear weapon against another nuclear power. This is, if you will pardon the pun, a "striking" admission. First, it narrows down the potential list of targets to Russia, the USA, China, France, Pakistan, India, North Korea, Israel and possibly Iran.

Given that Russia, the USA and China all have enough nuclear weapons to annihilate the UK it is reasonably safe to say none of their military activities are deterred by the possibility of Ed Miliband pressing the red button. Given their missile defence systems and the fact that Trident is US technology, it's actually fairly likely that a second strike attack, even if called-upon, would be intercepted, thus futile for what remains of the UK following such an attack. In the specific case of the USA, they actually service and make the parts for the UK's warheads, meaning our ability to use it as an independent deterrent is questionable at best.

The prospect that France would fire a nuclear weapon against the UK is so utterly ridiculous given the levels of military, diplomatic, economic and political cooperation between our two countries, as not to be worth a second mention. If Angela Merkel doesn't need nuclear weapons to stop France using their's against Berlin, neither do we.

India and Pakistan, only have nuclear weapons to re-enforce the principle of mutually assured destruction against one-another. Neither of these countries is going to attack the UK with a nuclear weapon in the next 30 years (remember, Vanguard subs are only going to take 17 years to replace) and the kind of geopolitical changes that would be required for this to be a plausible situation are such that the UK would be at the back of the queue in any decision by Western powers to deploy nuclear weapons.

North Korea: a country which lacks even the missile technology to hit the USA. If we are adopting a second-strike policy, they're never going to use a nuclear weapon against us, because they literally can't.

Israel: this one entails a combination of all the earlier sentiments. There is no way the UK would fire a nuclear weapon on Israel, nor indeed any plausible situation in which Israel would provoke such an attack from the UK but not one of USA, China or Russia too.

Iran: a country which does not actually have a nuclear weapon yet, but whose efforts to enrich uranium have led to talks, not with the British Government, but with the US Government. Even if they did get a nuclear weapon, it would be used, if at all, against Israel, and that would prompt US intervention, rendering the UK submarines irrelevant.

So there's the first problem: if you will only strike nuclear powers, there are no nuclear powers it is conceivably in the interests of the UK to strike, and especially not when it is a second-strike.

Outsourcing our deterrence

The glib response from Jim was to say that such an analysis "outsources" our nuclear protection to the United States. It does no such thing. The point is that the sheer scale and force of the US nuclear arsenal is such that the UK having these weapons is defensively trivial whether the US is friend, foe or otherwise.

The more complex claim, that we would be outsourcing Europe's nuclear deterrent from Putin, is similarly bogus. The US already uses Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey to station several of its air-based nuclear weapons systems. A Russian attack of the scale and kind capable of triggering a British nuclear response, even assuming NATO has broken down as a political alliance, is one in which the US is prepared to use those weapons against the aggressor first.

It is not that getting rid of or failing to replace Trident would make us a sideshow in these conflicts. It is that we already are a sideshow and will be for as long as the US, Russia and China show no interest in eliminating their massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

Is a nuke the best deterrent for a nuke?

Another claim made by Murphy was that just as conventional weapons deter conventional attacks, so too nuclear weapons deter nuclear attacks. This is wrong on several levels.

First, one of the major arguments in favour generally of nuclear weapons is that they deter certain types of mass conventional attack. Insofar as nuclear deterrence is a thing, he sidelined one of its speculative benefits.

Secondly, it does not follow that the best way to deter someone from using a nuclear weapon against your country is to have a nuclear weapon. What is more effective at stopping an Iranian bomb from being developed? A Vanguard submarine in the Atlantic with a Union Jack painted on it or an aerial strike-force that targets conventional weapons on uranium enrichment and other military facilities? Which one involves the fewer civilian casualties and less likelihood of global blow-back or escalation? The latter. Which one is cheaper? The latter.

There is a non-zero cost to investing in Trident. Even if we accept that level of military spending is necessary, there are more effective ways we could be spending that money. This is true whether we are dealing specifically with the question of deterring the use of nuclear weapons against us and our allies, or if we are talking more broadly about defence objectives. At the moment, the RAF is having to cannibalise Typhoons just to be able to make a respectable contribution towards international efforts against ISIS in Iraq. What is the point of being a nuclear power if we cannot intervene in global conflict zones that pose actual, serious, material threats to the security of our own people and those of our allies? This is the Defence budget equivalent of the NHS not bothering to stock the flu vaccination in order to pay for 600 police officers to attend the entrance of every hospital.

Multilateral disarmament

On the question of multilateralism against unilateralism, we get to the real nub of the argument. The last stand for someone who admits the UK will never use nuclear weapons but that we should nonetheless keep them or renew them, is that they can be used as a bargaining tool in non-proliferation negotiations with, especially, potentially rogue states like Iran.

Here's the problem though. The Iranians don't care about UK nukes. They care only about Israeli nukes and realistically want to barter only with US nukes. A similar analysis applies to North Korea. It simply isn't credible to conclude that whether or not the UK has a nuclear weapon is going to factor in any major way into those negotiations. If anything, the symbolism of the UK still having a nuclear weapons system is going to be political ammunition for any Iranian leader that walks away from talks or reneges on a non-proliferation deal.

The irrelevance of our weapons as a bargaining tool is only amplified when they are weapons that everyone knows we will never use. If they are reasonably confident that we will not use Trident against them, there is no reason why potential aggressors will see the reduction of UK arms as making them safer.

Too long didn't read?

If we are never going to use Trident except against a nuclear power as a second-strike option, we are never going to use Trident. Even if we could, our conventional responses would achieve the same military goals for fewer casualties at less expense.

If we are never going to use Trident, Trident is never going to deter a military action against us. If Trident is never going to deter military action against us, it does not add to our defensive capabilities.

If it does not add to our defensive capabilities, Trident shifts resources away from other military projects which do. If Trident shifts resources away from projects that add to our defensive capabilities, it is actively harming the safety of UK citizens.

Forget the morality of weapons of mass destruction. Forget even our obligations on non-proliferation in relation to international law. Trident, and indeed any UK nuclear deterrent, fails against its own criteria for success and prevents more successful ways of making us safer from being properly funded. That's why we shouldn't bother renewing it.

My challenge to Jim this week is to tell the voters of East Renfrewshire:

1. What military activities has the UK nuclear deterrent deterred since Trident was commissioned in the 1980s?
2. How remote, hypothetical and implausible must a specific kind of military threat be before we decide not to defend ourselves against it?
3. Can you name one country against which it would ever be in the UK's interests to use a nuclear weapon?

This post was published and promoted by Graeme Cowie (Scottish Liberal Democrats) at Burnfield House, Burnfield Avenue, Giffnock, East Renfrewshire, G46 7LT. The views expressed are Graeme's and his alone and do not necessarily represent those of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Getting your priorities right on tax

Warning: post contains lots of numbers
Whenever politicians start talking about the details of tax policy, I suspect the eyes of most of the electorate glaze over. Understandably. All they want to know is what it means for them and that it instinctively feels fair.

But the politics of tax is open to a lot of misrepresentation. Parties can use subtle ways of raising or cutting taxes that are not immediately obvious. The classic example of this was when Labour abolished the 10p lower rate of tax for low earners, effectively doubling their tax liability overnight as they were dragged into the 20p rate. They did this at the same time as cutting the then 22p rate of income tax to 20p, disguising a tax hike for the poorest behind a modest cut in tax for those on middle incomes.

It is sneaky tactics like this that give people a false impression as to which parties are standing up for those who need tax relief the most. In this election campaign the Tories have sought to steal and build-upon one of the biggest Liberal Democrat successes in this government. Our policy of raising the personal allowance meant that almost all full time workers have seen their income tax bill cut by over £800 in this Parliament. It has also completely taken the lowest earners out of paying income tax. This was a policy that David Cameron said in the Leaders Debate in 2010 was unaffordable.

Let's leave to one side the fact that Cameron's manifesto also included tax give-aways to some pretty affluent people, including a proposal to raise the inheritance tax threshold so that people with net worth of rather a lot more than the vast majority of people could be passed on less expensively to their children. Let's also leave aside that the Lib Dems managed to block that proposal.

What the Tories are now doing is to try to deceive people again, but this time by stealing our policy, with an important caveat. Like the Liberal Democrats, they want to raise the personal allowance up to about £12,500 and keep it roughly in range of a full-time minimum wage income. Raising the personal allowance to £12,500 would save most full-time workers about £400 in tax over the next Parliament each year. The Lib Dems propose to do it slightly faster.

The important caveat, though, is that the Tories also want to raise the threshold at which the 40p rate kicks in. Their argument is that if we don't raise the threshold from when people earn about £42k up to about £50k, the effect of inflation will be to erode the incomes of middle earners: people like senior teachers.

On the face of it, this might seem instinctively a good idea. Most people don't consider someone who earns under £50k to be extremely rich or part of "the 1%". Most people probably aspire to get a job that pays around that to provide a good quality of life for their family.

But here are a number of reasons we should not do this. First, we should observe that this policy benefits people who, nationally speaking, are actually earning quite a lot. The median household income, according to the ONS, is between £23k and £24k. That means that half of all households earn less than this before tax. For the non-retired it is still only slightly above £25k.

So that's a reality check: people who earn more than £42k are earning almost twice as much as most households. This isn't to say that they are rich, but they are not poor by any definition either. If you earn £40k you are in the top 20% of earners in the UK and if you earn £60k you are in the top 10%, according to the Treasury's tax return figures. The top 20% of earners in this country are not poor.

Secondly, these people on salaries of £42-100k are still going to be benefitting from the rise in the personal allowance. They're going to be getting £400 back. What the Tories are proposing is to raise the 40p threshold to £50k. That means that, in addition to getting the tax cut that all the low earners get, the Tories want to give them another tax cut. They are potentially giving earners of £50k or more a tax cut of over £800. That's not protecting middle income earners; it's pandering to them.

When incomes are growing as slowly as they have been in the aftermath of the recession, you really have to ask who most needs that extra money in their pocket. They could have used that money to give a National Insurance cut to low-paid workers. They could have raised the personal allowance faster, or higher, or both, benefitting the bricklayer at least as much as if not more than the banker.

No one is suggesting that we should soak the rich just because we can. There are genuine arguments that can be made about the efficacy of high tax rates on tax revenue: that's why the IFS is sceptical that Labour's plan to reintroduce the 50p tax rate will actually raise any money. When we tax the super wealthy we should be looking at what is most effective at making them bear a fair share of the burden. Moral grandstanding that harms tax receipts just makes it harder to protect the vulnerable from welfare cuts, as Osborne's £13 billion cuts plan proves.

But there is no evidence that "fiscal drag" is particularly harming the top 20% of earners in our country. There is also no evidence to suggest that keeping the 40p threshold roughly where it is will cause a reduction in tax receipts by discouraging enterprise or making people leave the country. When times are tough, we should concentrate gains, where possible, towards those who most need that support. To do that, your tax policies should focus on the personal allowance and the threshold at which NI kicks in. It should not focus on providing a double tax-break to the richest 10% of households.

If this seems like a complex piece full of numbers, I don't apologise. We need the detail to be open and honest about the choices we face in this election. If you want a tax-cutting party that focuses on the many rather than the few, your choice is not the Tories. It is the Liberal Democrats.

This post was published and promoted by Graeme Cowie (Scottish Liberal Democrats) at Burnfield House, Burnfield Avenue, Giffnock, East Renfrewshire, G46 7LT. The views expressed are Graeme's and his alone and do not necessarily represent those of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 - A Pause for Reflection

Every moment in life is precious in some respect, but for many, myself included, 2014 has taken on an added importance. In addition to the day-to-day challenges we all face, in Scotland, at least, we were also confronted with an existential question: one which energised, agonised and antagonised almost in equal measure. For me personally it has been one of the more difficult, but rewarding years of my life, and one which I can say at least has ended in a better place than it began.

I have a number of reasons to be grateful for the past year. After a tricky start to the year, I made some satisfying progress with my thesis, with two extensive chapters that, in the wake of the current constitutional debate, have become particularly relevant. I also took up teaching in the second half of this year, tutoring some 80 or so second-year law students in administrative law. This challenge is one I have greatly enjoyed, albeit it has been exhausting at times, and I hope I have been in some way useful for those students. If I have encouraged even some of them to persevere with public law despite its capacity to be turgid and esoteric, then I reckon I have done my job properly. Helping others to learn is a truly gratifying privilege and to have the opportunity means a great deal to me.

Parliamentary Club Leaders 2013-14
L to R: Hannah Gower, Duncan Crowe, me, Heather Whiteside,
Brian McCarthy

Outside of my academic pursuits, I have had a lot of fun debating this year. Firstly, I had a whale of a time giving my "Prime Ministerial" in GUU Parliamentary debating in January, where I enjoyed the support of a number of my predecessors and close friends. It also meant a great deal that my dad, a twice Glasgow graduate himself, was there to see it. What I found the most satisfying, however, was not my own personal success. It was, alongside the other leaders from last year, bringing through other debaters and helping them to develop and realise their potential. There is a real sense in GUU debating not just of doing well by ourselves, but also by others, and that we have a responsibility to pass on better than we ourselves inherited. I hope we lived up to that.

Somewhat to my own surprise, I became involved in intervarsity debating again too. I entered somewhat of a self-imposed absence from that form of debating after Berlin Worlds at the beginning of 2013, and had not expected to resume in any serious capacity. That changed in February when, having been roped into speaking at the Scottish Mace, and approached it initially as a bit of a laugh, Marc Fryer and I somehow ended up joining two other GUU teams in the final. It was the first time in a long time that I genuinely found that type of debating a fun experience for more than simply the competition.

Ljubljana IV Final
It re-energised me and motivated me first to trial for Euros and then to forge a hugely successful partnership with Heather Whiteside. We reached the Ljubljana IV Final and then broke 5th at the European Championships in the summer. It involved some hard graft, but towards the end we really started to work well as a team and I was happy that we managed to continue the success of Duncan Crowe and John McKee in the previous two internationals. There is a clear sense in which the momentum they have built for the current generation of GUU debaters has been sustained, vindicated most recently in the fantastic efforts of Owen Mooney and Chris Edgar in Malaysia, breaking 23rd. I wish them good luck in the New Year as they try to bring the trophy back to Gilmorehill.

GUU Freshers Week Independence Debate
After all the rigmarole of the independence referendum, including bizarrely ending up speaking in a debate with Tommy Sheridan (on the same side!) it is good to see a degree of normality starting to return to Scottish public life. I voted Yes in the referendum, with a very heavy heart, and confess I had to take a while to regain my composure after I left the polling station. Many described the referendum as a triumph for civic engagement, but for me, I did not feel that glow. The enormity of the decision has still divided our country and a lot of those conflicts will take some time fully to heal, but the process has been somewhat cathartic. We now have a process by which both more powers for Holyrood should be delivered and a political environment in which it will become progressively more difficult for people to sidestep the structural issues behind our constitutional malaise. I am glad that the referendum was not much closer than it was in terms of the result, as that would have made reconciliation and the pain associated with it much more difficult.

Zagreb Railway Station: the Journey Begins
Enough of politics. Perhaps most importantly, 2014 has been a year in which friendships have been sustained and flourished. It meant a lot to me to have many good friends coming back to the GUU in January to support me, but I have also forged a number of meaningful friendships in the last year or so with people who were previously only acquaintances. I had a great week travelling through Europe after Zagreb with Matteo Catanzano, visting places I had never seen before and being able to unwind, free from work and other pressures. Meaning in life is so often less what it is you are doing, but who you are able to share it with. I am grateful for the friendships forged this year and hope they last a lifetime.

I wish everyone, especially my friends and family, a fortuitous 2015. No doubt it will bring its own challenges, but if 2014 taught me anything, it is that our potential is so often constrained primarily by what we think we can achieve.