MY first seven months as an MSP have been illuminating. I’ve worked with politicians from all parties, heard from hundreds of constituents and attended community events across the Highlands and Islands region that I represent.

I’ve particularly enjoyed my role as convener of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee. There are few issues as central to our health and wellbeing as where we live.

This importance has only increased during the pandemic. With many people turning their homes into offices, it has been challenging for those without spare rooms to work from.

The pandemic has impacted our physical and mental health. That is why our recovery needs to focus on people and the planet. After all of the false dawns and the hardship caused by omicron, 2022 will be a crucial year for our recovery.

The work we are doing in parliament is essential. Last month’s Budget included significant steps, such as doubling the Scottish Child Payment and providing record investment in active travel and mental health services.

The National:

However, my first months as an MSP have also brought to light the severe limitations of the current constitutional settlement. There are so many vital changes that we would love to make but can’t.

The festive period would have been so much better if we had been able to improve sick pay for those in isolation and bring back the furlough scheme to provide greater safety, security and support for people and businesses. Similarly, I wish we could have stopped the cruel Universal Credit cut, which has hit the most vulnerable and plunged thousands of households into poverty.

Even when it comes to devolved areas, we constantly find ourselves coming up against blocks.

Let’s consider housing, which my committee has a particular interest in. If we take retrofitting, for example, there is a 20% VAT rate on construction works for existing buildings. Voices from across the industry tell us a variation in VAT could be the single most significant change in rebuilding the sector.

According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a reduction in the rate would generate £51 billion for the UK economy and 345,000 jobs in construction while enabling us to transform our existing housing into warmer, greener homes.

These kinds of limitations exist in almost all devolved areas of policy.

With Greens in government, we are taking big strides to reduce our carbon footprint. However, we don’t have the power to upgrade our electricity grid or connect our vast renewable resources to Europe to sell our excess zero-carbon energy. Nor do we have the same freedom as our European counterparts to invest in the infrastructure and industries we need.

The National: Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater

At present, in her capacity as Minister for the Circular Economy, my Green colleague Lorna Slater (above) is introducing a ban on some of the worst single-use plastics. It is a very welcome step. However, one potential hurdle that she faces is the UK Internal Market Act, which could exempt items produced in or imported via another part of the UK.

In 2014 this act didn’t exist. The UK Government introduced it in the aftermath of Brexit, and it was widely opposed in Holyrood, with all parties except the Tories voting against it. The act effectively allows the UK to veto devolved decisions.

But independence is not just a question of what powers sit with which parliament. We cannot simply take power from London and centralise it in Edinburgh.

I spend part of the week in my region, at my home in Moray or another part of the Highlands and Islands, and part of it in Edinburgh. I love these places dearly. They are uniquely different expressions of Scotland. They have all been shaped by their natural environments, history and time.

All parts of the Highlands and Islands have striking landscapes and natural environments that need our support to regenerate. Both on land and at sea, these places could provide a great deal of Scotland’s food and renewable energy. Edinburgh has some of the best culture and sites of any city in Europe.

They are great places that hold a huge place in my heart, but the solutions for Edinburgh will rarely be the solutions for the Highlands and Islands, and vice versa. And we must make sure that our rural and island communities are vibrant in their own right, not in service of our cities and urban places.

As a Green, I want to see power redistributed to the local level.

It makes sense for some policy decisions to be taken in common at the Scottish Parliament level, particularly as we recognise the need to move beyond mitigation and start to adapt our way of life and business in the face of the impacts from the climate and nature emergencies.

However, I want to see local people leading with support from local authorities and parliamentarians. Local people know their surroundings – the land, coasts and the seas and they must have agency to make decisions on the issues that impact them.

Independence is not just a means to an end, nor is it an end in itself. It is a springboard from which we can do things differently by transforming our country and adapting to ensure a future for everyone.

With the powers of independence, we can learn from the last two years and use those lessons to guide us as we take a different path towards a fairer, greener and better Scotland. 2022 can be a crucial step on that journey.