AS we start to contemplate the end of the year and some time away, for a while at least, from the keyboards to spend with family and friends, it is worth remembering all those who have kept society on the road this last year.

One of the things I have most enjoyed in Stirling lately has been launching and awarding “Alyn’s Local Heroes”. Via my website, people can nominate a local business that has gone above and beyond over the last couple of years, and I’ll go visit and award them a framed letter of congratulations and thanks.

Shops, cafes, bars and restaurants have all featured, and it has been a genuine pleasure to give out the awards to folk all over the constituency.

It’s something a bit more tangible than just saying thanks or urging people to shop local.

Because of the recovery from Covid – which hasn’t gone away – it’s going to be tough for a long time yet. I’m concerned for our hospitality sector and independent shops, as the current crisis continues unabated by an incompetent UK Government.

I have had numerous meetings with the onsales trade and while this month is busy, it is going to be an even longer January.

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With the impact of Covid still lingering and energy costs rocketing, there is still a lot of concern that for many businesses, the numbers are insurmountable.

All this is compounded by the challenges and barriers Brexit has thrown up. Hospitality and other businesses which historically relied on seasonal labour are struggling to find staff as the fall in the pound and the challenges of the UK’s immigration system means that for many it is simply unsustainable to come here for work.

At the same time, the tight labour market means that there are simply not enough workers available for the wages that can be offered. And if you’re a business exporting to the EU, the problems are amplified 100-fold. From additional customs checks, Brexit red tape and the costs of dealing business across hard borders, the situation doesn’t get any easier.

It’s true that while Covid and the war in Ukraine have had an impact on supply chains and prices, there is only one country which imposed Brexit itself and is the only G7 country which has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

As politicians, it is not good enough for us to express sympathy, wring our hands and offer platitudes (though it helps if we at least acknowledge the problem!), it is our job to find answers and solutions. And we in the Yes movement have the answer – independence in Europe.

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I think next year will be the year that independence in Europe becomes clearer to more and more people as they realise that we do have a different – and better – path to choose. That being said, I have just seen yet another Brexiteer on the BBC claiming that “Brexit remains a huge opportunity”.

Aye, right you are pal, for your spivvy mates to clean up, but not for many of the rest of us.

In my new role as Europe and EU accession spokesperson at Westminster, I see nothing but opportunities for us to promote our case by highlighting the deficiencies in where Scotland sits now.

Not just by holding the Tories to account for their awful policies, but Labour too, given that they have bought into the big lies as well.

It is quite obvious that Labour are not going to reverse Brexit, nor re-enter freedom of movement or the EU single market – any one of these things would at a stroke remedy many of the problems our economy is dealing with now – but it is clear they’re not going to countenance it, so feart are they of Nigel Farage and his online army of keyboard warriors.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. The EU can be a complicated beast once you get into the detail.

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It is up to us though in the Yes movement to explain what EU membership would actually do for the people of Scotland.

Those benefits being lower prices, international solidarity, and greater opportunities to live, work and experience life with our European friends and neighbours.

That’s where we’ll win, by understanding our case, as we do, and patiently explaining it as the best answer.

Or at least a better answer than anything Westminster is going to deliver for us.