IN a year dominated by swivel-eyed Brexitopians, toxic tinpot oligarchs and the general scunneredness of the citizenry, forgive me for beginning my 2019 preview with an utter genius. He might be half a millennium distant from us, but he’s exactly what we need right now.

This year we celebrate the 500th year of the passing of Leonardo Da Vinci (May 2, 1519). We should expect a parade of tech moguls to be clutching the hem of his garment, hoping Da Vinci’s polymathy might rub off. From discovering Newton’s laws of motion 200 years before Newton did, to painting the Mona Lisa and sketching out flying machines, Leo is a relentless spur against mediocrity.

We can only hope that some young genius is currently filling up her or his notebooks (or Google Docs, or Minecraft account) in the same way. Rendering solutions to energy storage, or collective intelligence, or civilisational tolerance; integrating design, engineering and art. Indeed, never mind the Nobels – we need the Da Vincis.

Though the Italian has an abiding lesson for these overworked times too. “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,” Da Vinci once told a patron, “for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterwards give form.” Sailing past a deadline? Call it Leonardo’s Excuse.

Last year’s thudding political celebration was of Karl Marx’s birthday (200 years), and next year’s is Mahatma Gandhi’s (150th), on October 2. The Modi government in India plans a year of rather bathetic worldwide celebrations, one of which seems to involve a domestic “cleanliness” drive. But expect there to be a flurry of debate about Gandhi’s legacy – with much revisionism around his fads and obsessions. I hope to hear from the Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra, who interestingly holds up Gandhi’s thought as an antidote to our “fake news” age.

When advocating satyagraha (meaning “holding fast to truth”), Gandhi urged his followers to “always keep an open mind and be ever ready to find that what we believed to be truth was, after all, untruth ... we will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragments and from different angles of vision”. Maybe a continuing lesson for the Scottish independence movement?

As Mishra writes in the New Yorker, Gandhi defended (and indeed died for) “many values under assault today – fellow-feeling for the weak, and solidarity and sympathy between people of different nations, religions, and races”.

The National:
2019 sees Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birthday

Closer to home, there’s a cluster of political anniversaries this year which only seem to emphasise the cyclical nature of politics on these islands. 40 years ago, on March 1 1979, the first Scottish referendum on devolution managed a majority, but fell short of an imposed 40% rule. On May 4th 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the UK. 30 years ago next year, Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax to Scotland first (on April Fools’ Day). 20 years ago, the Scottish Parliament was reconvened, and five years ago, we voted No to independence. A few more steps forwards than backwards, we might hope.

The black current running underneath all of those dates is the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the discovery of high-grade crude oil in the North Sea (June 20, 1969). A half-century of energy wealth entirely lost to us (though painfully retained and burgeoned by the Norwegians), with the remainder of it now tinder to a burning planet. (Though we should note, on May 22, a decade of the Whitelee Wind Farm, at the time the biggest in Europe. So our next 50 years are not without energy options).

And if we needed any more reminding that acts of collective power in Scotland might at some point hit their limits, it will be a hundred years after the tanks and the army advanced on 20,000 strikers in Glasgow’s George Square, on Friday January 31, 1919.

As many of these examples show, politics is often a reaction to – and if we’re lucky, a harnessing of – some technological or scientific transformation. The 200th anniversary of the death of James Watt on August 25, whose condenser steam engine was the core efficiency that drove the Industrial Revolution, is a pretty robust Scots indicator of that.

Another Scots link to massive tech achievement would be the 50th anniversary, on July 20, of Neil Armstrong (of the Langham Armstrongs’) and his first walk on the moon. Half a century on, we watch various tech moguls gear up their private rocketry for moon landings, driven by commercialised and even leisure imperatives. You might wonder whether progress stalls and stutters, as much as advances.

Although maybe it goes crabwise. Wired’s World in 2019 edition tells us that, next year, CubeSats – tiny satellites cheaply launched into space – will revolutionise how we understand our earthly economies and ecologies (Scottish companies like ClydeSpace are leading players in this field). And we seem to have secured our own spaceport, in Sutherland, to eventually fire them up there ourselves.

Though if we feel like it, 2019 will allow us to be dystopians too. Visit Scotland has been advertising the fact that it’s 70 years since the release of George Orwell’s 1984 (first published on June 8, 1949). If you are quick enough, you can apparently book some time in Barnhill, the Jura residence where Orwell wrote the terrifying text. (It’s not clear whether the place has enough bandwidth to run your Amazon Alexa ... which is a sweet-voiced audio version of what Orwell meant by his dreaded “telescreens” anyway).

Alternatively, during the Glasgow Film Festival in Feb (22-23), you are invited to pull on your black leather leggings and sunglasses, descend to the Arches in Argyle Street, and honour 20 years since the first film in The Matrix series. In the weeks running up to the Brexit deadline in March, the temptation to take either the red pill (to live in brutal reality) or the blue pill (to escape to dreamy fantasy) might be too hard to avoid. Rehearse the choice here.

The National:
The Matrix screens at the Glasgow Film Festival in February

Culturally, there is much to anchor you against the inevitable storm of 2019. The National Museum of Scotland’s new galleries will be dedicated to Ancient Egypt, East Asia and the art of ceramics. So if you need some literacy about dictators wielding overbearing power, or the region that is in the control tower of the next century, it’s all here.

The next TEDSummit will descend on Edinburgh this summer, July 21-25. Going by previous visits, it lands like a rather indifferent cosmopolitan mothership, barring everyone who can’t afford their four-figure ticket prices (though at least the stellar presentations will be on video later).

The mere reception of symbols may not be enough to help us cope with a faltering consensus reality; perhaps brain chemistry itself will require altering. So let us note that there are three new distilleries opening next year – the Clutha in Glasgow, the Hollywood Park in Edinburgh, and the Logg on the Isle of Arran.

It gets worse. The new BrewDog hotel – Aberdeen’s The Dog House – will have “beer taps in the rooms and a beer fridge built into the shower, with the rooms overlooking the brewery itself”.

Proximity to wreck-the-hoose-juice may be required, as our bumbling political classes steer us off the cliff of Brexit (and Scotia waits, and waits, for the call to sovereignty).

But if the opportunity comes along to put a new nation-state anniversary in the yearly lists, maybe we should instead grab it like Leonardo. That is, with everything we’ve got, putting imagination, empathy and design to the fore. Have a momentous 2019, everyone.