It has been another difficult year and while Covid continues to demand a lot from all of us, I am optimistic for 2022.
We’re working hard to make sure we have the best possible protection against the Omicron variant – but we must not forget that we are in a much better place than 12 months ago.
Around the same time last year, the vaccination program was in its infancy and the results were uncertain.
Now the UK is at the forefront of the global fight against the virus, with the vast majority of us safer thanks to vaccines and – after Herculean efforts by the NHS over the past two weeks – to injections of reminder also.
I want to pay tribute to the scientists who made this possible by developing, innovating and testing; to the wonderful NHS staff and volunteers who have worked alongside them; and to the British military personnel who worked tirelessly in the midst of the greatest national peacetime effort.
And thank you in particular to you, for the sacrifices you have made, for having looked after your neighbors and for having endured enormous restrictions in your life. Thank you, above all, for rolling up your sleeves for injections that could have saved your life and the lives of others around you.
We still have a long way to go and I encourage anyone who has not yet been vaccinated or boosted to receive their vaccine now. It is never too late to play your part in the fight against Covid.
While it is natural to look back at this time of year, we must also look ahead.
Recovering from the pandemic is our priority. The UK government’s unprecedented support package – including 18 months of leave – has done a tremendous amount to protect businesses and livelihoods.
A third of Scottish jobs have been supported through our leave and self-employment programs, helping to isolate families as the economy weathered the storm.
Now we are building better. The UK government’s £ 1.5bn City Deals program continues at a steady pace. And we’ve announced more than £ 191million in grants for communities across Scotland as we strive to move forward across the UK. In addition, our Jobs Plan encourages people to work and helps them progress.
Much has been done, yes, but there is still a long way to go.
We will bring Freeports – which provide the conditions under which high-tech and high-end jobs can thrive – to Scotland.
The Union Connectivity Review is a visionary project designed to transform the lives of Scots by bringing our transport network to a level that is both fit for today and ready for tomorrow. By making the flow of people and goods easier by road, rail, sea and air, we can deliver a better connected and therefore more prosperous UK.
One of the highlights of this year was COP 26, the United Nations conference held in Glasgow, which was of enormous scope and vision. He brought the world together in a spirit of common effort to address the other great crisis of our time – the climate emergency. The UK will continue to lead the world in the fight against climate change during our one-year presidency of the COP.
Scotland can lead the world in this green revolution. We are investing heavily in renewable energies such as wind and tides, while helping North Sea industries, on which so many people depend for their livelihoods, to transition to new technologies and opportunities.
While no one can be specific on when the misery of Covid will pass, I am sure that – together as one UK – better times are ahead for all.
I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous year 2022.