Past Life: Editorial Comment – The Year That’s Gone

From Shetland Life, January 1985, No. 51

While many people will be glad to see the back of 1984 it was, on the whole, a good year for Shetland. It was marked by the driest summer for a long time which nevertheless produced excellent crops and livestock. The greatest contradiction surely came in the fishing industry when a year marked by an acute scarcity of white fish proved to be a record one for the local fleet, with high prices compensating for a drop in landings. For the processors, on the other hand, it was a dismal year as they were forced to pay dear for supplies that could only keep their factories working at reduced capacity. Those that export to America must be reflecting ruefully on what might have been, since the low value of the pound against the US dollar provided the conditions that should have “set them on their feet” had they been able to produce the goods.

In the country as a whole unemployment continues to rise, causing misery for millions. It was a year of confrontation with a widening gulf between the striking miners and the Coal Board that now seems too wide to be bridged. The government has done little to bring the two sides together and its strong arm tactics, combined with an unwillingness to negotiate, has alienated other sections of the community. There is something far wrong when reasonable people, like the school teachers, have to resort to industrial action. Both sides are now taking up positions which can only lead to an escalation of that dispute with disastrous effects on our children.

One achievement that attracted insufficient attention from the media was the remarkable agreement between Britain and China over the future of Hong Kong. It is reassuring to find that a hangover from colonial days can be resolved peacefully without resorting to arms, as in the case of the Falklands Islands dispute. The two cases are of course dissimilar in many respects. There is no way that Britain could prevent China from taking back the colony if she wanted to and, besides, the people of Hong Kong, in spite of their admirable British qualities, are not in the same category of kith and kin as the sheep farmers and shop keepers of the Falkland Islands.

The Chinese, with the excesses of the Cultural Revolution behind them, are now being courted by the West and their response has been encouraging. Clearly some way has to be found for the West to live with the communist world and a hopeful start has been made in this direction in the Far East with a race once maligned as “the Yellow Peril”.

China can be proud of some of its achievements – it manages with its own resources to feed nearly a fifth of the world’s population. This is no mean achievement in a year that has seen such human misery in Ethiopia, Chad and the Sudan. It took the medium of television to make the West realise the full horror of the situation in Africa and help was soon on its way – but this help will have to be sustained over a long period if it is to prove effective. There is little point in alleviating the agony of millions only to let them die a few months later.

As the new year starts all eyes are on Geneva and the talks that bring to an end 13 months of Cold War threats between Russia and the USA. It is perhaps unwise to expect too much from these talks. Mutual suspicion cannot be swept away overnight and it is unrealistic to expect either side to surrender its supremacy, real or imagined. For a start the two super powers should try to get to know each other better with visits at all levels – cultural, sporting and diplomatic – let them put the disastrous Olympic Games behind them. It is only by getting to know a person, or a country, that many preconceived ideas are shown to be false.


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