For the first time, none of my immediate family was around at Xmas with two sons with family, one in London, the other in Nova Scotia. So, out of choice, I had the house to myself with the exception of Mr Smokey, my ageing cat.
I WhatsApped (is that a verb?) Canada where, thanks to the Royal Mail strike and despite early posting, presents arrived on December 27, having lurked in the UK for an entire week. It actually worked out OK giving my granddaughters a second parcel opening. All good and well, but it turned my thoughts to others with no family, no internet, no heating.
On Hogmanay, as I contacted Canada, four hours behind us, I heard the skirl of the bagpipes above the city’s fireworks and the ship’s horns on the Forth. It was a neighbour’s friend who had come out on our wee street to welcome in the New Year. With him came a tot of whisky, and a good malt at that, for us to see in the bells. It was reminiscent of the horrible days of Covid when three of our terraced households stood apart outside on a balmy December 31, toasting in 2022.
I did a bit of first footing with a lump of coal for good health and fortune to the household but no black bun which I couldn’t find anywhere. Afterwards, I waited to bring in 2023 in Nova Scotia. Blessings again on WhatsApp.
This was a brief break from dealing with the concerning difficulties for many of my constituents. It recharged my batteries and made time for family, friends and neighbours. Now it’s back to folk with their many problems: inflation pressures, especially food and fuel prices, housing that’s not fit for purpose, accessing GPs and the NHS generally, and pay disputes.
Let me start by agreeing that, especially in the care and health sectors, they do a great job and could do with better pay, particularly with inflation of around ten per cent. The recent Scottish tax increase was for funding to be directly allocated to the NHS but, as their professional negotiators know, the Scottish Government has a budget fixed when inflation was three per cent. Inflation has knocked £1.4 billion off its value.
Brexit added to the mix has left health, social care and other sectors short of staff. Folk simply went back to their home countries in the EU where there is freedom of movement for work.
Those queues for hospital beds are not confined to Scotland. In fact, as I’m sure you will have seen on television, it’s worse in England. Covid knocked the NHS for six for two years and it will take years for any part of the UK to return to pre-Covid days.
Added to that are the usual winter viruses, including flu which is also increasing the demand for hospital beds. By the way, I had that recently for three weeks and it was pretty rough stuff despite being vaccinated, so make sure you get yours. In the meantime, let’s look for better times ahead. Take care of yourself and those close to you.
Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale