AFTER 2016, who’d be a soothsayer for 2017? Today I’m going to take refuge in events coming next year that are cast-iron and certain – that is, significant anniversaries.

They’re standard furniture for the media, but I like them more and more as I get older. They jolt you back into a past that must, by definition, still have its grip on you – whether 20, 100 or 500 years ago.

In a time when malevolent powers are out to scramble your sense of recent events, the anniversary makes a historical claim that can’t easily be denied. It’s also a caution against narcissism. Our own messes, and triumphs, are hardly unique.

The fundamentals of power, money, technology, shifting values, and burning ideals persist.

There are a few huge dates that will reverberate throughout the year. October 31 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses – which were possibly nailed to the front door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, but which certainly kicked off the Protestant Reformation throughout Europe.

And from February to October, the various upheavals of the Russian Revolution will celebrate their centennial.

The point at issue for Luther in his theses was that the Church was selling off “indulgences” – which win you remission from penance for your sins, in this life or in purgatory – in order to pay for palaces such as St Peter’s Basilica. To Luther, this made religious observance inauthentic, even encouraging sinfulness that could be wiped away later, in paid instalments.

This doesn’t feel so alien to our present moment. We’re all wrapped up in dodgy spiritual economies these days, happy to pay for the sensation (if not the reality) of virtue.

A health-destroying fast-food chain twangs the deepest heartstrings of our social emotions in its advertising. A domestic fluid sizzling with chemicals adorns its bottle in leaves and flowers. Hipsters proclaim artisanal values, while their retail increases the carbon footprint.

I wonder whether the Luthers of our day are hackers such as Assange and Snowden, Adbusters and Anonymous. They nail their revelations about our true relationship to the world, and our proclaimed values, to the front of our glowing screens.

And they urge a personal relationship to our info-world which encourages small groups of devotees, working directly with the holy text of code, unplugged from the seductions of apps and platforms.

We must muse on the Russian Revolution as a specific event – a takeover powered by a workers’ movement outraged by the violence of the First World War, and needing to overcome a particularly brutal despotism. But in terms of its contemporary impact, I predict two main lines of enquiry.

The obvious one will spread backwards from Putin – a former KGB man who has just reconstituted the KGB (the letters stand for Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security). How deep, we will ask, does authoritarianism go in Russian civilisation?

But the other line, surfaced by Paul Mason in his book PostCapitalism, will be whether we can discern in the tumult of ideas and philosophies of the Russian Revolution some modern lessons – particularly about how to make a major shift from one major system to another.

The ghastly human cost of forced collectivisation of the Stalin era proves one enduring political lesson, says Mason: “do not take power in a backward country”. If you want a tantalisingly different angle on the thoughts that could have driven the Russian Revolution, try to get your hands on Alexander Bogdanov’s novel Red Star, published in 1909.

Bogdanov’s book is a stirring utopian vision. Technology is used to reduce work to a minimum, planetary sustainability is paramount, feminism drives social relations, and a peaceful transition to a new world is possible. It sounds like a summary of today’s op-ed pages on robots, universal basic income, climate crisis.

Yet that other great shaping collective force of the 19th and 20th centuries – nationalism – will also mark some significant dates in 2017. As the Russian Revolution concluded, the Finns managed to secure their national independence 100 years ago on December 6, 1917.

Peer backwards into the archives, and the language seems all too familiar: “The people of Finland feel deeply that they cannot fulfil their national duty and their universal human obligations without a complete sovereignty.”

Yet the interdependence, even vulnerability, of nations is part of the Finnish story. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania declared independence at the same time, but were annexed by Soviet Russia in the 1940s. How did Finland avoid it?

By a process of “Finlandisation”, which involved strategic deals with its powerful neighbour, and an active self-censorship in media and politics. Again, in terms of current Russian influence in the Baltics and other former Soviet states, this is hardly a dusty archive.

And in terms of Scottish constitutional advance – marked by dates in 2017 like the 20th anniversary of the referendum on a Scottish Parliament (September 11), or the 10th anniversary of the SNP taking power in Holyrood (May 3) – it’s worth dwelling on our fortunes, as well as our struggles. We’ve been in bed with an elephant – but not a tyrannosaurus.

The formation of the Dominion of Canada 150 years ago (on July 1) is being framed as “not born out of revolution or a sweeping outburst of nationalism”, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, but “created in a series of conferences and orderly negotiations” (with the British anxious about uniting their colonies against US attack). Whatever comes up for Scottish indy politics in 2017, it will always pay for us to study specific histories of nation forming.

For tech heads – meaning your humble scrivener – there are enough dates next year to help us get some kind of historical measure of our furious changes.

The iPhone is 10 years old on June 29. Cue much musing on how the device either pushed the digital revolution into our hands and made it everyday and useful. Or whether its candy-coloured apps turned us into info-addicts, exploiting our “playbour” and numbing our citizenship.

We also might get a second wave of Dolly the sheep fever – the date her cloning was announced to the world was February 22, two decades ago, although she’d actually been cloned on July 5, 1996. This time, it might be worth dwelling on how the hype of these transformative technologies – humans cloned!; diseases prevented!; lost children reborn! – measures up to the succeeding years. There’s been a global ban on human cloning – but pluripotential stem cells, which obviate the need to experiment on human embryos, have flourished as a result of the Roslin Institute’s breakthrough.

As we wonder what robots will do to our job market, it’s calming to look back on how steadily and sensibly cloning has developed But note: not without a lot of strong regulation and institutional common sense.

Finally – and yes, this is a very subjective list, so please make your own – 2017 will mark some major dates in the formation of the Summer of Love in 1967. The Human Be-In happened at the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on January 14, followed a fortnight later by the Mantra-Rock Dance, understood to be the “major spiritual event of the hippie era”. And on November 9, Rolling Stone magazine was founded to record it all.

So as the New Year grimly heaves into view, I hope the artists, the freaks and the geeks get it together at some point in 2017, somewhere on these islands. We need an anniversary date upon which to commemorate the great turnaround.