When Time magazine declared Donald Trump as its Person of the Year, a colleague here asked: 'How far would they go with this? Would Adolf Hitler have been a runner?’
We checked. Adolf Hitler was indeed Time Man of the Year – in 1938 when the world teetered on the brink of war and the existence of the female of the species was still to be formally recognised by corporate America. At that stage, the Man of the Year had not got around to gassing millions of Jews, and even when the full extent of his atrocities became known, confirming his status as a person of some power and influence in the world, he failed to win the title a second time. Yet a rival mass murderer, Stalin, did pull off the double, between acts of genocide on what came to be known as an industrial scale.
Surveying the Time shortlist of six for 2016, I was struck by two curiosities: its incurable mediocrity, a fitting commentary on this nauseating year; and the strange absence of Farage. Most of the British newspapers had carried the exciting news that he had made the list. But between nomination and publication the man who brought you Brexit somehow dropped off the radar – a fact unreported in the same newspapers. (Journalists are hopeless at the follow-up. They have the attention span of a gnat.)
In the end, the vanishing Farage was rated less important than the great Beyonce. And if you’re still looking for a little good news as we stagger towards Hogmanay, you’ve probably just read it.
Like other awards schemes – from such obvious absurdities as the Scottish Politician of the Year to the baubles bestowed twice annually by a grateful state – the Time Person of the Year is so fantastically comical that I wondered if it would be possible to devise a more credible alternative. The one I had in mind would have rewarded the better side of the human race rather than the naked exercise of megalomonia and serious psychiatric disorder, but I didn’t share this thought with the Scottish Review contributors who were invited to send us nominations. I simply banned Trump and let them work out an alternative themselves. My congratulations to all those who rose splendidly to this unusual challenge.
Thirty-three contributors produced 28 nominees (for three of those nominated appeared twice or more). With the singular exception of Jo Cox, there were few politicians – only the grisly Putin, a heavily ironic commendation for the sinister president-elect Pence and, more pleasingly, Barack Obama at the end of his graceful tenure in the White House; but no mention of the beleaguered Angela Merkel, the last great hope of liberal democracy in Europe.
Humanity itself was nominated in the form of all those who would never be considered for the title Person of Year: the majority who just get on with it. The nearest we got to a sporting Murray was their mother. The youngest nominee was four years old – Suzie McCash who rescued her own mother with that astonishing telephone call to the emergency services. Ron Ferguson’s choice of Davitt Walsh, the Irishman who rescued the baby from the sinking car, was perhaps the most moving single nomination, and in perfect harmony with the spirit of the scheme.
For trade reasons I was pleased to find a journalist - if only one, Lyse Douset. But where were the writers? In the year that the major prize for literature went to Bob Dylan, the Nobel prize committee was not alone in being unable to think of a writer. Our lot couldn’t either. What does this say about contemporary writing at a time when we desperately need a deeper perspective? Discuss.
The shortlist produced itself: the three who together garnered a quarter of the total vote. The exploits of Tim Peake appealed to two of our younger contributors, Islay McLeod and Josh Moir, while Pauline Cafferkey deservedly earned the admiration of Bill Mitchell and James Aitchison – among many others, I guess – for her courage and dignity in confronting her various ordeals, including the gratuitous disciplinary hearing.
But there is a clear winner. Or rather was. She is dead. She has already been dead for six months.
I knew so little of the mood of Britain that I remember speculating that, if her murder had any effect on the remaining days of the referendum, it would be a positive one for Britain’s continued membership of the EU – by helping to restore a sense of humanity and decency. I couldn’t have been more wrong: Jo Cox’s own constituency voted heavily to leave. Her feisty campaigning had counted for nothing; we ‘wanted our country back’ too badly to allow her death to change hardened hearts. Now that she’s gone, we shall see how it feels to have our country back; so far, it hasn’t been a pretty sight.
Let's end with one of the few redeeming features of 2016: the humane values of Jo Cox that she lived – and died – for.
'She reminded us', said Anthony Seaton, 'of what should be the motivation behind the actions of politicians...We wept for what might have been, a better, less divisive world'. Fiona MacDonald echoed these sentiments: 'It was genuinely enlightening to hear the testimony of some of her constituents on what she had achieved for them, an insight into what a committed MP does on a day to day basis'. Eileen Reid reminded us that even in death 'she protected her staff from her dreadful, hate-fuelled, racist murderer' and Maggie Craig had a fine final word: 'In a darkening and divided world, she remains a beacon of light, showing the way forward for all with the courage to pick up the torch'.
We are proud to name Jo Cox as SR's Person of the Year.