To begin my first column of 2021, I’d like to wish you all a very happy new year.

2020 was one of the strangest and saddest years in living memory, but as we start a new decade, there is a widespread feeling of cautious hope for the future.

We’ve just witnessed the inauguration of the new US President, and many people here in Scotland and around the world have shared a huge sense of relief that the previous incumbent is no longer in power.

Though the shadow of right-wing populism is still present both in the US and in many other countries, it’s heartening to see the new US administration wasting no time in starting to reverse some of Trump’s harmful policies.

There are reasons to be hopeful in the fight against Covid too.

Although the infection rate is still worryingly high, the vaccine rollout is now well under way.

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The majority of people have tried very hard to behave considerately up to now, and their actions have without a doubt reduced the spread and saved lives.

We need to make sure these efforts were not in vain by being sensible and continuing to follow the NHS and government guidelines, which are based on expert medical and scientific advice.

In another, less positive, new chapter, 2021 sees us no longer a member of the European Union.

Many of us in Scotland continue to feel a profound sense of loss, as well as frustration as we watch the predicted Brexit problems unfold.

The last thing people need here in West Dunbartonshire on top of the Covid pandemic is rapidly climbing prices as supermarkets scramble to pass Brexit costs onto the consumer.

Meanwhile our talented local business-folk are hit with hidden costs and red tape blocking them from selling their wares.

With no European Union protections, the Tories in Westminster are now threatening to scrap our workers’ rights, including the 48-hour week and holiday pay.

By now we should not be surprised that Labour voted with the Tories in favour of this assault on our workers’ rights and on the social security system we, the people, paid into.

But we have a choice.

We can be led by the power-crazed Westminster elite, despite their brazen contempt towards us, or we can take the opportunity to build a fairer, more equal Scotland that does not align itself with narcissistic, deluded tyrants.

At the Scottish Parliament election in May, we can send a message to the world that we’re ready for a fresh start, and a future we choose for ourselves.

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