A Happy New Year to everyone!
One of the things I most like about New Year is the way it brings folk together, with complete strangers greeting one another - albeit with greater care this year - with hope for the coming year.
Scotland is partially responsible for imparting that to the world. One of our great traditions on Hogmanay is to sing Burns' poem, 'Auld Lang Syne.' The poem calls on us to recall our common humanity and is now also a tradition around the world.
A little more recognition of that common humanity in our body politic would also be welcome in the year ahead. We desperately need a contrast to the events of the past 12 months, where we witnessed a UK Government which:
• Scrapped the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift - a decision which leaves over 400,000 people in Scotland £1,040 worse off.
• Scrapped the Triple Lock on pensions – which leaves over 1million Scottish pensioners £520 worse off.
• Increased National Insurance – hitting lower and middle-income earners the hardest.
• Introduced the Nationality and Borders Bill – which allows the UK Government to criminalise victims of torture and refugees for trying to flee to the UK for safety.
• Cut International Aid – breaking a manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development aid.
I know from my inbox how important these issues are to people all across Gordon. I don’t believe those concerns expire at the constituency boundaries I share with neighbouring Conservative MPs, who must receive similar concerns from people either directly affected by those policies, or who oppose those measures on moral grounds.
Limitations of space rather than scarcity of examples has confined me to the above five points. However, I know that the concerns raised come from all points and preferences on the political compass, from folk who feel that the UK Government no longer speaks for or represents them as they would wish to be represented on these ‘reserved’ matters.
I’ve always believed Scotland would be better off as an independent country, where we are able to make decisions for ourselves, being restricted only by the limits of our own abilities, our own resources and our own choices. I recognise that there are others who – particularly after the fiasco of Brexit - are perhaps open to persuasion on independence but remain to be convinced.
However, I also recognise that there are many who remain firmly of the opposite view. That is fine – the issue of Scotland’s future isn’t something which needs to define us as individuals, and like anything else, it is a subject over which good and sensible people can disagree amicably and respectfully.
Revisiting the question of independence is something that needs to happen in light of all that has been experienced since 2014. Now that Brexit is ‘done’ and once the pandemic has receded to allow the sort of national conversation a subject of this matter merits, then those discussions can get fully underway. And it’s important that they should do so in a way that is respectful not just of the issues at stake, but of those participating in the debate as well.
So, let's make 2022 a year of hope, a year of vision and a year of belief. We can always make the world a better place - if we dare to hope, if we dare to believe and, importantly, if we dare to act. Carry the words of Rabbie Burns, "And there's a hand my trusty fiere! and gie's a hand o'thine!" and let's build on that.
I wish you all the best for 2022.