The Highlands, throughout its proud and long stretching history, has always been a place of strong community bonds. We have a tradition, borne out in front of us all in real-time during the Pandemic, of caring for and helping our neighbours. 2023 will, in all likelihood, be a year when that sense of community will be of the utmost importance to us all.

With the festivities over, we return to our normal daily concerns, and many more folk than before will be looking at their household finances with a sense of worry, maybe even dread. It is almost impossible to stay positive when facing the pressures of trying to pay the bills with little or no ability to do so, and this will be a stressful time for the many affected people and families.

I have written before, at length, on the reasons why we face such a daunting crisis. About the folly and self-harm of a Brexit that we in Scotland didn’t want or ask for, and about the scant disregard for people’s needs in the energy market whilst the cash cow of Scotland’s energy resources was milked and squandered by Westminster, so I won’t go into further detail on that here.

We are where we are. We can change our future and choose a different path. That is a choice that you should have and one which I am determined you will have. But, for now, we will need to rally round as individuals, families, and communities. In the year ahead, my hope, indeed my expectation, is that as we see people struggle, we will also see the best of us as neighbours and as friends. In days gone by, during periods of immense struggle, folk in the Highlands stood strong together, and I suspect this sense of resolute togetherness in the face of adversity will endure throughout the challenges we face this year.

With Scotland’s disproportionately enormous natural wealth and resources, we shouldn’t have to live in a society where we are so dependent on food banks to help folk eat and on vital support volunteers to help with the basics. But whilst we are, I would urge those who can to donate and support those who run them. A quick search on Google will tell you where they are and how to help them.

Naturally, I will keep up the pressure on the UK Government to live up to its responsibilities. To do the simple and right things, like matching the £25 per week Scottish Child Payment and other support, to help those in the other nations of the UK get this support too, but also to, by Barnett consequentials, allow us to do more here.

That being said, whilst being kind to others, we also must remember to be kinder to ourselves. To find the time to understand that each and every one of us needs to have moments of peace, appreciation and joy. So, take the opportunity to have a laugh when you can, you deserve it.

There is a lot of hard work to be done in the year ahead, but there are also a lot of great people who will do great things, both big and small, amongst us. Thanks in advance to them, to you. All the best for 2023.