Before reflecting on 2022, I’d like to thank the many front-line workers who have been working hard in the past couple of weeks trying to keep our communities safe.
We’ve seen significant snowfall and unusually cold temperatures. That made it challenging indeed and I’m grateful for their efforts, whether that’s the snowplough teams, utility workers, health and social care providers, and the emergency services.
Challenging indeed could well be a phrase used to sum-up 2022, which seemed intent on continuing the trials of 2021. Be it war in Europe, the difficulties caused by Brexit, the energy crisis, the cost-of-living crisis, and the self-inflicted chaos by the UK Government which saw us have four Chancellors, three Prime Ministers, two Foreign Secretaries, and yet still be left with Alister Jack in the Scotland Office, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Prime Ministerial changes to one side, the biggest change the UK underwent in 2022 was the loss of Her Majesty the Queen, who passed away in her beloved Aberdeenshire home. The Queen’s record of public service was quite extraordinary. She was only 25 years old when she came to the throne in 1953. Earlier this year she celebrated her Platinum Jubilee marking 70 years on the throne, the longest serving monarch in British history.
In February, we witnessed the brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the resultant fleeing to safety of refugees. As with those fleeing danger in Syria and Afghanistan, the North-east has once again played a role in helping and hosting families. For some, this will become their home for generations to come. Others will return when they feel it safe to do so but, in the meantime, I am proud of those individuals and agencies involved in providing support to fellow human beings in their time of need.
Brexit continues to be an unalloyed disaster, forcing up the cost of food and goods, restricting the labour pool, and creating barriers for exports. Latest data on Northern Ireland’s booming trade across Europe highlight the brutal costs of Brexit for Scotland. The figures show Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK still in the European Single Market – recording exports to Britain up 13%, to the Irish Republic up 23%, and to EU countries up 18%. Meanwhile, North-east farmers can’t export so much as a seed potato to Northern Ireland, let alone the EU, destroying markets built-up over decades.
A major worry for many people this winter is the cost-of-living crisis and energy costs. A new report from Child Poverty Action Group highlights that Scottish Government policies are immensely important in reducing the level of financial strain and hardship on families. However, these bold actions to support families at this difficult time are being painfully undermined by cruel policies from Westminster. Families in Scotland should not be facing choices like heating or eating just now – never has the phrase ‘poverty amidst plenty’ been so apposite.
For many people, in many different ways, it has been a hard year. In the New Year, I will be hosting a Cost-of-Living Advice Surgery where I intend to bring together energy providers, advice agencies, benefits agencies and others to provide one-stop help and advice. I’ll be publicising more details on this shortly but, in the meantime, to all my constituents, may I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and safe Christmas.