A is for Angela
After 16 years in office Angela Merkel stands down as German Chancellor when her term ends in September 2021.
The pandemic has certainly helped the CDU/CSU bounce back in German opinion polls. However the CDU has yet to decide who its leader will be going into the federal election and there is no great enthusiasm for the three candidates that have thrown their hats in the ring.
The poll should see the SPD relegated to third place in German politics with the Greens consistently being in second or on occasion first place in opinion polls increasing the possibility of a Black-Green coalition emerging by the end of the year.
The CDU are in a comfortable position at present but with the Chancellor standing down after 16 years it will be interesting to see if the CDU/CSU union’s popularity can remain where its currently at post-Merkel.
B is for Biden
The Irish-American political veteran from Pennsylvania will become the 46th President of the United States in January at an inauguration that will have to be low-key by necessity.
His first challenge are the Senate elections in Georgia which will dictate whether the Democrats will be able to control both Houses or not. This will be critical in terms of the delivery of Biden’s agenda.
Biden’s victory will mark a u-turn in the US government policy towards the climate crisis. He will sign the US up to the Paris Agreement again and put the country on a pathway towards net zero
A better US-Ireland relationship is expected to emerge in 2021. The special US-UK relationship that we have seen in the past looks set to change radically. Not only because of the differences between Biden and Johnson over Brexit but the fact that the incoming administration will not see the UK as being as powerful as they were in the past. Brussels, Paris and Berlin will more likely be the corridors of power that the US will pay attention to, not London. Johnson has a lot of ground to make up with Biden after betting so heavily on Trump winning a second term.
Also bookies are giving 11/8 odds on Biden making Ireland his first foreign visit in 2021.
C is for Census
‘Census Day’ will be on 21st March 2021. There will be the usual focus on religious background when the results are eventually published but new questions will be included for the first time on sexual orientation and renewable energy systems.
This will be a digital first census which will make it easier for people to fill in and send back .
The Irish government has postponed its census in the south for a year until 2022.
D is for Dublin
Which along with Glasgow and London is planning to host a number of games at ‘Euro 2020’ which has been rescheduled to take place in June-July 2021. None of the teams this side of the Irish Sea made it through to the Finals unfortunately but Scotland v England at Wembley will be one to watch on 18th June.
E is for electric cars
With a huge array of new models coming onto the market next year 2021 could be the ‘tipping point’ year for electric vehicles. In the next 12 months global electric vehicle sales are expected to grow 50% or more compared to 2-5% for internal combustion engine vehicles.
Tesla shares have surged in 2020 and the company are expanding into new markets including India in the new Year.
With bans on new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars due in 2030 for Ireland and Britain expect more models to come on the market from Volkswagen and others. Even Apple is hoping to bring out an electric car by 2024.
F is for Fianna Fáil
Micheál Martin is now 6 months into his premiership as Taoiseach but 2020 was bittersweet for the party. Of course Fianna Fáil did win the most seats in the election and Martin became the first party Taoiseach in 9 years.
However Sinn Féin winning the popular vote in February and the continuing attacks by Fine Gael on Mary-Lou’s McDonald’s party has helped to create an environment where many see Fine Gael and Sinn Féin as natural political opposites.
2021 will be a critical year for Fianna Fáil and there may be trouble ahead if Martin cannot put wind back into the sails of the party and get them back up alongside Sinn Féin and Fine Gael in the opinion polls.
G is for Glasgow
The UN’s COP 26 (Climate Change Conference) takes place in Glasgow in November and is being mooted as the most significant climate conference since Paris in 2015 when a target was set to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees.
Former US Vice-President Al Gore said
“All eyes will be on Glasgow less than a year from now – this is actually when we will determine that the tipping point has been crossed and that we are beginning a new era, with humanity finally going serious about solving this existential threat to our existence.”
Cathy Allen from Extinction Rebellion COP stated:
“The 25 meetings of COP have so far only achieved the Paris Agreement. Though a start in terms of coming together, the Paris Agreement is not nearly enough to protect humanity. The world is watching as time runs out. Fires, floods, sea level rise, heat waves, drought, food insecurity – all these are happening now. But just around the corner, we can see that much worse is coming. COP26 is a historic opportunity for a just and fair agreement to control climate heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
H is for Holyrood
The elections to the Scottish Parliament in May will be treated as a de facto referendum by the SNP and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who will have a second Indy referendum at the heart of their 2021 manifesto.
The support for Scottish independence has been consistently ahead of that for maintaining the union for the past 7 months.
Sturgeon will be keen to seize on that momentum in favour of ‘Yes’ in the midst of a Brexit opposed by the majority of Scottish voters and her positive and consistent performance in terms of the handling of the pandemic.
The question is how can a referendum be held without the consent of Boris Johnson and Westminster? Can the Scottish Parliament paddle their own canoe and pass legislation to hold an ‘advisory referendum’? It has never been tested in court so this remains unclear.
Unionist parties may also decide to boycott any such poll. However Johnson will be acutely aware that London blocking decisions made by the Scottish Parliament could actually lead to a reaction that actually boosts support for independence.
For Sturgeon timing is crucial. Many Indy activists want a referendum held in the immediate aftermath of the elections when full details of the Brexit deal and its implications are clear and if mass unemployment locks into the economy popular discontent in Scotland could well be at its peak.
However Sturgeon might not want to hold one right away but has said that she would campaign to hold a vote “in the early part of the new parliament”.
I is for Irish Passports
to use at EU/EEA lanes and e-gates at airports in 2021. Having one also means keeping your right to freedom of movement within the EU and the right to work and study in any EU country without a visa and with no time limit.
J is for Japan
The delayed Olympic and Paralympic Games kick off in Tokyo in July.
K is for Knesset
Israel is heading for its fourth election in two years after the unity government collapsed. Support for the Blue and White party has also collapsed and that leaves Likud in a very good position.
It looks likely that any government returned will be to the right rather than the centre. Much of the Blue and White support is heading in the unlikely direction of Gideon Saar. Its more a case of ‘Anyone But Netanyahu’ than ideology.
Meanwhile the controversial (and racist) Nation State Law passed by the Knesset continues to prove controversial, being used by a court against Arab students in Carmiel seeking reimbursement for transporting their students outside the city due to a lack of Arabic language schooling within it.
The demolition of Palestinian villages and homes by Israel continues in the occupied territories.
The outlook in 2021 remains bleak for Arabs in Israel and those living in Palestine.
L is for Language Acts
Last month Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, advocacy manager for Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge, said that
“As we approach one year on from NDNA (New Decade New Approach) it is now time for the legislation agreed to be implemented in full alongside the Irish language strategy also promised in that agreement.”
So what is the latest on those commitments to legislation for both the Irish language and Ulster Scots?
On 30th November in response to a question from Andrew Muir MLA (Alliance) deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that :
“Officials are undertaking the necessary preparatory work to legislate for the core elements of the Bills, and we intend to progress legislation during 2020-21 and to create the relevant bodies as quickly as possible thereafter.
“I am happy to give you the commitment that, when we introduce the Bills, they will be laid out with a very clear time frame for delivery and you will be able to chart their way through the rest of the mandate.”
So according to The Executive Office we should expect this legislation to be introduced in the New Year. Any slippage in that will no doubt prove controversial given what preceded NDNA.
M is for Marijuana
In the Dáil People Before Profit’s Gino Kenny will bring forward a bill in 2021 to end the prohibition of cannabis.
The UN reclassified cannabis as a less dangerous drug in 2020. This followed a World Health Organisation recommendation that research into its medical use is made easier.
In the US 36 states have now legalised medical cannabis, with 15 allowing consumption and/or sale of cannabis. In 2021 there’s a possibility of further reform in New York, Virginia and Connecticut. A Cannabis Bill is also making its way through Congress in Mexico.
With reform of laws relating to cannabis taking place across the world it is archaic that police budgets in Ireland and Britain are still wasted on arresting people for using cannabis and that families have to jump through hoops to have any chance of accessing medical cannabis for loved ones that are in suffering. Hopefully 2021 can be a turning point.
N is for NHS and other frontline workers
Fighting on the frontline against the coronavirus for most of this past year and putting themselves at risk again in 2021. Lets not give them a clap or a pat on the back lets ensure they are paid well and that decisions are not made at Executive level that could overwhelm hospitals and the workers that are currently under immense mental and physical stress.
O is for Offices
It is likely that many of us will return to offices at some time in 2021 and get some much craved social interaction but things will not return to how they were pre-March 2020. Or at least they shouldn’t. Line managers don’t necessarily need to see employees at a desk to make sure that they are working. Measuring outcomes and ensuring employees are happy and less stressed to improve productivity are metrics that companies should have prioritised long ago.
2020 has been good in that there is not as much stigma attached to doing work-related video calls and have children running about in the background or sitting on your knee. However the novelty of living our entire lives from our home, drinking wine whilst doing table quizzes by zoom and making our way through Netflix’s back catalogue in our living room / offices quickly wore off.
There is a need to return to balance which needs to be in line with the needs of individual employees. Forcing employees to travel half their day for a one hour meeting for example is, and always was, nuts. Presenteeism needs to end when we move to a ‘new new’ normal.
P is for Private Members Bills
Individual MLAs were busy in 2020 drafting up proposals for Private Members legislation and 12 Bills are now being consulted on – with more in the pipeline.
The Bills cover a range of policy areas such as Autism, Trade Union Freedom, Single Use Plastics, Zero Hour Contracts, Integrated Education, Fracking, Domestic Abuse and Hunting.
A cross-party Private Members Bill on Climate Change aims to commit the Executive to meet net zero emissions by 2045.
Q is for Questions about Brexit & Sea Borders
R is for Royal St George’s Golf Club
Shane Lowry will hopefully be able to successfully defend the Claret Jug at the Open that has been rescheduled to July 2021 in Kent.
S is for Selection Conventions
Towards the end of 2021 expect to see a series of these held by parties picking their prospective MLAs for the 2022 Assembly elections.
It will be interesting to see what older hands in the Assembly decide to call it a day and what talent emerges from the ranks of party grassroots.
T is for The Hill
Control of which comes down to 2 runoff elections for the Senate in Georgia that take place in January.
If the Democrats win both seats the Senate would be split 50-50 with the Vice President Kamala Harris having the casting vote for any legislative decisions.
These elections will dictate how much Biden will be able to do over the next couple of years and whether Republican Senators will be able to block and stymy his legislative programme.
U is for Unemployment
The s**t has yet to hit the fan to be quite frank.
Local economist Richard Ramsey has said that
“It’s difficult to get a true picture of what’s happening in the labour market because there is so much support – whether that’s the job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme – which is giving an artificial picture and flattering the true state of the labour market”.
There is going to be a huge challenge when furlough comes to an end. Many sectors have already in effect lost January as a minimum due to lockdown restrictions. At the moment we are still projecting how things will look post-Brexit. We will get a clearer view of how that will impact sectors, markets and cost of living as 2021 beds down.
2021 should be a better year in terms of regaining some of the social freedom we have lost in 2020 but it may yet prove worse in terms of employment and the cost of living.
V is for Vaccines.
Currently being rolled out to key workers and older citizens, it will save many lives in our community.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has now also been approved.
The Department of Health has said it means GPs can begin the first phase of population vaccination from Monday 4th January, starting with those aged 80 years and over.
This is all fantastic news. However with case numbers now surging and with the new strain being more contagious the threat is still very real.
The public needs to be more careful in the coming months and with the vaccines being rolled out we now can hopefully ‘break the back’ of the coronavirus threat to our loved ones.
W is for Wales
Elections to the Senedd take place in May
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford took a markedly different approach to the Covid pandemic than Boris Johnson and this has broadly went down well with Welsh voters, many of whom were unfamiliar with Drakeford pre-pandemic.
The Conservatives will be seeking to repeat their General election performance when they took a swatche of seats in the north of Wales.
In one recent opinion poll support for Welsh independence was as high as 33%. However support for pro-independence Plaid Cymru has not grown in line with that trend.
With Labour expected to lose some ground, and the Tories being seen as too unpalatable for Plaid there is a strong possibility that a Lab-Plaid coalition could emerge from the May poll.
Also worth noting is that councils in Wales now have the option of ditching First Past The Post for local elections starting in 2022 after legislation was passed by the Senedd in November.
X is for Xenophobia
Xenophobia and racism is still a huge problem in the USA and elsewhere and 2020 shone a light on the USA in particular and a lot of ugly problems that they have failed to deal with.
The debate over public statues celebrating Confederate figures of the US Civil War for example is still continuing. In 2020 Mississippi, the last state to have the confederate saltire in its flag, legislated to replace it with a newly designed flag.
Confederate symbols in town halls and localities within states will continue to come under scrutiny in 2021.
Symbols of course are only a manifestation of the problems of racial inequality. All eyes will be on the White House to see what strategies are put in place to deal with systemic racism. Biden referred to ‘the battle to achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country’ in his victory speech.
Black Lives Matter has become a significant political movement in the US and expect actions to continue in 2021 aimed at all levels of governance.
Y is for (100) years
The NIO’s launch of its campaign to mark 100 years of partition didn’t get off to a great start as it faced a backlash of complaints about using an image of Seamus Heaney in its branding.
Of course it has already divided parties at Assembly and Council level.
The BBC has launched a podcast focussed on the year.
Certain centenary events won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. However continuing historical analysis of the period by Eamon Phoenix and others is sure to be worth a read / listen.
Z is for (Net) Zero
2021 must be the year that the world leaps into a net zero future according to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Countries representing around 65% of global CO2 emissions, and around 70% of the world’s economy, will have committed to net zero emissions or carbon neutrality by early next year.
All eyes on Glasgow then.
Twitter : @daithimckay