THIS evening, as the bells begin to sound, there will be few who will not heave a sigh of relief that 2021 is ending and make a wish for a better 2022.

A year that promised so much after the privations of 2020 has, in the end, delivered very little. It is now 21 months since the start of the first lockdown and we are still in the grip of the pandemic with infection figures higher than ever, though there are some more positive signs on the horizon.

In addition there are plenty of other things ahead to “guess and fear” as Burns put it.

For a start the insidious menace of inflation, which people like me who came of age in the 70s remember only too well, is back amongst us, with the RPI now at something over 7% – a figure we haven’t seen for more than 20 years. Add to that spiralling energy costs, the planned National Insurance hike and the continued malign influence of a majority far-right UK Government paralysed by sleaze, corruption and incompetence and the prospects for a brighter next 12 months are not great.

New Year, however, is a time for hope, fresh starts and good intentions, so as the days slowly begin to lengthen let me make three wishes for the coming year.

The first is of course that we find ourselves by this time next year shot of the public health emergency that has dominated our lives for so long.

The consequences of the personal losses, individual and business restrictions and radical changes in our patterns of work and leisure will be with us for may years to come. Anyone who claims they have not been affected and altered by the experience is lying, but how each of us absorb what we have been through, learn from it and move forward will increasingly be the issue we must address.

During this time we have been fortunate in having as our First Minister a person who has sacrificed a huge amount of herself to try to make the right decisions despite the distracting and annoying noises off caused by immature and narrowly self-centred opposition from a variety of sources.

She and those around her have battled valiantly against the virus but even when it is vanquished, their job will not be done. There can be, I am sorry to say, no rest for her. Now she has to win the post-pandemic struggle, placing before a much-changed Scottish population a vision of what they can and must achieve whilst holding off a decrepit but vicious UK establishment that puts the preservation of the bankrupt Union ahead of preserving democracy itself.

So my second wish is for a well-informed and well-thought-out approach to the next, conclusive independence referendum – and for it to take place as soon as we can guarantee an extended face-to-face, intense and inclusive discussion about the future of our country.

The best way to do that, as Nicola has herself indicated, is for the SNP/Green government to introduce the final part of the suite of referendum legislation into the Scottish Parliament this spring – pandemic permitting – and then to work to secure a positive outcome to the process during 2023.

The final wish is for the Yes movement that must lead that campaign.

The National: Yes campaign material as the campaign ahead of the Scottish independence referendum continues. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 8, 2014.  The more information people have in the run-up to the independence referendum, the more

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I was delighted that the SNP was able to work closely with this newspaper and Believe in Scotland in October and November, and as a result to distribute a million newspapers to homes the length and breadth of our country.

But that, for me, is only the start.

For example all independence polls tells us that the group least likely to vote Yes is that comprised of the over-60s. Yet independence offers them not only an improved standard of living, with a commitment by all politicians supporting independence to a better state pension – but also enhanced prospects for their children and grandchildren making their way in a fairer, more equal and more prosperous country.

The backwater that Britain is becoming offers no relief from decline. Freedom of movement is now prevented, the huge advantages of the single market abandoned and the opportunities afforded by schemes such as Erasmus+, which applies to youth work and training as well as higher education, have been thrown away by the disaster of Brexit.

The time is right for a campaign to tell the truth about independence to that older generation. Skilled older communicators would be huge assets in such a campaign and, using them, this newspaper and the SNP could reach out to a new audience working alongside other parts of the Yes movement including Pensioners for Independence.

So despite the difficulties, a better 2022, lies open to us all if we choose to move forward positively with a clear confident – and united – idea of what we wish to achieve.

We can, working with the experienced leadership which Scotland already has, start to prepare for post-pandemic opportunities.

We can put in place the final legislation that will open the door to a referendum.

We can help to build a dynamic and inclusive Yes movement which will win all of Scotland over to independence.

We will have disagreements of course. There will always be issues that divide the forces for progress and they will be exploited by those who wish us to fail.

But if we waste all our time and effort on such things, digging trenches from which to throw deeply felt but ultimately irrelevant Twitter barbs, then we will have no-one to blame but ourselves.

We should work instead on what we have in common, which is Scotland’s cause – the cause of Independence.

That cause will be the hope in my heart this Hogmanay, and in many other hearts too.

Let’s resolve to make it happen at last.