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I WANT to say I hope Christmas and New Year was as enjoyable for you and yours as can be during these hard times. We are back in lockdown, and every day governments across the UK are releasing new record figures for positive cases, deaths or hospitalisations from Covid-19.

We have three vaccines approved now, which shines a little light into the dark tunnel this pandemic has been – but we also have the new variant. It is drastically more infectious, so to prevent our NHS being overrun we must ensure we are doing all we can to suppress the virus.

Unless you must go to work; have to go to the shops; have caring responsibilities or are exercising, please stay indoors and away from others. We all want 2021 to be better than 2020 was, and the only way we achieve that is by working together to stop the spread of the virus. Normally in my first column of the year I look back on the previous 12 months, but the real reason I do that is because usually there isn’t much news happening around Christmas and Hogmanay to comment on. You can usually rely on that time of year to give you a bit of peace to focus on family and friends and switch off from the politics. Not so this time.

Over the festive period we had a terrible Brexit deal foisted on us at the last possible minute, the Scottish Parliament was recalled to consider the rise in Covid-19 cases and the new more infectious variant – and then domestic terrorists rampaged through the American legislature at the behest of the American president.

The scenes that took place in Washington DC this week were completely shocking. Not because they weren’t expected – indeed, the people taking part advertised their plans all over social media in the weeks running up to it – but because of the response, or lack thereof.

During the summer, we all witnessed the Black Lives Matter movement grow in the US, and subsequently worldwide, raising awareness and challenging the violence that BAME people face in their daily lives. We also witnessed the militarised response they faced. People protesting peacefully were shot with rubber bullets and teargassed.

Donald Trump passed an executive order stating that people who attacked statues would face a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

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People protesting outside the Whitehouse were teargassed to clear space for Donald Trump to hold a photo-op holding a bible that he’s certainly never read. People were thrown to the ground, bashed their heads in the process, and were then refused assistance for filming police.

We saw police officers covering their badge numbers in an attempt to evade the consequences of their actions. A journalist lost an eye to a rubber bullet fired by police.

The response to events in Washington on this week? Videos appeared of the police opening security fences to let the protesters enter. Someone stood filming as a sole black security officer was forced to retreat from his post by a braying mob of thugs chasing him up the stairs of a government building. Some police officers were seen taking selfies with those storming the building. I can’t reconcile those two different responses in my mind.

The alt-right has been on the rise throughout the world since 2016. Following the recession of 2008 and a programme of austerity, the result has predictably been a concentration of extreme wealth. The feelings of outrage, hopelessness and anxiety that ordinary people feel as a consequence of inequality cannot be underestimated.

People such as Trump, Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have harnessed those feelings and have successfully manipulated them to let loose a monster that threatens democracy. They have used social media to radicalise thousands of people with conspiracy theories and lies. Disinformation is a disease which seems to spread in their circles.

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The American electorate has now rejected this – taking the last bit of power from the Republican Party by flipping the Senate in elections in Georgia this week. America is slowly taking steps in the right direction, but can the same be said of the UK? We are kidding ourselves if think Scotland is exempt from this worldwide campaign of disinformation.

Tolerating views of intolerance inevitably leads to the end of democracy. Any flirtation with outright fascism must end. We have to stop treating intolerance and bigotry as an edgy opinion that deserves to be debated in the name of “balance”. We must challenge the notion at every opportunity that an opinion, however loudly expressed, does not hold the same value as a fact. If we don’t then we are ultimately risking democracy.