In my first column of 2021, I wish all Orkney News readers a happy new year – and in particular all pupils, teachers and parents as remote learning starts this week.
Ordinarily a change of calendar heralds hopes for a new start and fresh goals. However, these are no ordinary times, and even Orkney is on guard after six new Covid-19 cases brought the total of positive cases to 45.
The move to put all of Scotland, apart from Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles,into Level 4 restrictions from Boxing Day was an attempt to stave off the growing numbers that were being seen further south.And the message is clear from Nicola Sturgeon that adhering to the rules is critical as numbers climb, albeit at a slower rate than elsewhere in the UK.
As the vaccine rollout continues, it is reassuring that the SNP leader continues to be seen in a positive light by the public. A new survey shows strong support for Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, with 43% approving of her performance as a party leader across the UK – the highest of any party leader.
The Scottish breakdown shows 57% (a +24% rating) of people in Scotland approve of the way the First Minister is handling her role during the pandemic.
This compares with 37% at a UK level for Boris Johnson and 23% in Scotland (ratings of -7% and -42% respectively). A staggering 65% of people in Scotland disapprove of the way Boris Johnson has fulfilled his role as Prime Minister.
The figures are not so surprising when the actions of Westminster’s Tory government are considered.Their abdication of responsibility on the virus is shocking enough, but the damaging Brexit mess that is emerging is horrific.
With reports having shown Orkney will be among the areas worst affected by Brexit, the coming weeks and months will be extremely worrying for islanders. Analysis suggeststhat up to 34% – or over 8,800 people – are among the most vulnerable to the economic shock of Brexit.
Of course, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament consistently suggested alternatives. While recognising the UK would leave the EU, we proposed staying in the single market and customs union.
The UK Government dismissed these ideas. It disregarded Scotland’s views, values and interests. Its weak deal will be disastrous for Scotland.
It is clearer than ever that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests and our place in Europe is to become independent. Scotland has the right to determine our own future.
And that is a message that the SNP will carry into the Scottish Parliament elections, which are due to go ahead in May, and where voters in Orkney and Shetland will have an opportunity to elect MSPs to work effectively for real change for the islands. While I campaign in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, I will be keeping in close contact with Robert Leslie in Orkney and Tom Wills in Shetland as they seek to build on the efforts of previous campaigns.
Stay strong folks.
Maree Todd is the SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands. All regional MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their own views.