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.