It was a Christmas and New Year period like no other, and one that most of us never want to see the likes of again. Many people judged it not safe enough to visit family or friends on Christmas Day, and instead opted for a socially distant zoom call instead.
Hogmanay last year, I was on the Stirling Castle esplanade with friends and colleagues, cheering in the bells, before retreating for a celebratory few at the Settle Inn. This year was a much less sociable affair. However, a very big well done to the team at the Wallace Monument and to Stirling Council for pulling off a spectacular fireworks display, which was televised on the BBC. In the midst of what was a less than ideal New Year celebration, it was heart-warming to see Stirling being showcased centre stage as we turn a page on what has been an extremely challenging year for so many of us.
For Scotland and for Stirling, the New Year has hit us with a double-whammy, one which started an hour before the bells, when the UK left the European Union entirely. Whilst we formally and legally left the EU eleven months prior, we spent the intervening time in a transition period, retaining our rights as citizens of the EU as well as access to the EU’s Single Market and the Customs Union. As of 11pm on December 31st, that is no longer the case.
I was elected, little over a year ago, on a clear and unambiguous pro-EU platform. The constituency I represent voted to remain in the EU by 68% back in 2016. Indeed, Scotland as a nation voted to remain by 62%. We are proudly European and have not been listened to by the UK government in this process. We have entered into a trading arrangement with the EU that will leave us worse off and with fewer rights and access to our closest and most important economic and social partners.
However, Scotland sees what is happening. We’ve a Holyrood election coming up, and it’s the most important we’ve ever faced. It’s our chance to forge a new, outward looking path for ourselves. I’ve spoken to many people over the past few months to whom it’s clear that there is only one way for Scotland to get back into the EU: independence.
Just a few days into the New Year, the First Minister confirmed that the spread of Covid-19 has reached dangerous levels, risking lives and potentially threatening the ability of our NHS to cope. This is of course helped by a new variant of the virus which appears to be spreading much faster, affecting more people. This has, sadly, meant that more restrictions have had to come into effect to help slow the spread, including a legally enforceable ‘stay at home’ message, and moving school pupils to remote learning through the remainder of January.
This wasn’t the news that any of us wanted to hear, but the steep spike in new cases erupting all over the country served as a stark warning that action had to be taken.
As ever, myself, Bruce Crawford MSP, and the team on Stirling Council will continue to work closely with communities and businesses to ensure people are getting the support they need. A priority for me is to continue to pressure the UK government to extend financial support to the many people who have slipped through the net so far.
It is easy to see nothing in front of us but darkness and gloom, considering that we are now effectively back in a lockdown scenario. However, there is hope this time around – people in our communities are already being vaccinated and the planned rollout of the vaccination programme will continue to take place over the next few months.
This nightmare will end, we just have to stick with it for now. I wish everyone a Happy New Year, but also to stay safe and look after each other.