IN the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth, a group of hardened revellers will today take part in the celebrated Loony Dook at Queensferry. Jumping into ice-cold water awakens the senses, so perhaps the organisers should have sent out last-minute invites to Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon as we mark the end of 2018.
For different reasons, they can’t look back on the past year with much pride.
As now appears to be the norm, the last 12 months have witnessed incredible political drama that even Armando Iannucci couldn’t script.
It was almost as unpredictable as the weather, which brought us both the ‘Beast from the East’ and a glorious summer of sun.
If there was an award for ‘Survivor of the Year’, it should clearly go to Theresa May.
It is quite remarkable that she is still in office, after a year of high-profile resignations and a leadership challenge. But there she is, still in Number Ten, still blindly pressing on with a Brexit deal that will devastate our economy and cause the poorest in society to suffer.
My views on Brexit have not changed over the past 12 months.
There can never be such a thing as a good Brexit deal, and that is as clear today as it was on New Year’s Day 2018.
This time last year, I argued that people should be offered a final say on Brexit – a view that wasn’t politically popular. But a People’s Vote is now supported by a majority of the country, according to opinion polls. What a difference a year makes.
At the start of 2018, no political pundit would have given that a snowball’s chance in hell of happening.
Theresa May still refuses to get on board, however, and is clinging on to a deal that we know can’t get through parliament. You need a New Year’s dook in the Forth to come to your senses, Theresa.
Hogmanay also marks another year with Labour out of power, with Jeremy Corbyn seemingly as determined as the Prime Minister to steamroll through Brexit. It is my passionate belief that this country needs a Labour government, but that isn’t going to happen if we are prepared to abandon the views of the party membership and sacrifice so many livelihoods by pressing ahead with a reckless Brexit.
Closer to home, constitutional chaos is Nicola Sturgeon’s specialist subject. What isn’t in her armoury, however, is how to successfully deliver public services.
The SNP has utterly failed in its commitment to end the attainment gap in education, while teachers are now in open revolt with the Government.
As for the NHS, it has been one failure after another – and nowhere is the impact felt more than here in the Lothians.
Waiting-time targets are nowhere near to being met, ‘delayed discharge’ remains a huge problem, and health boards are being starved of cash.
The same can be said of our councils, which are being short-changed by the Scottish Government. In Edinburgh, the consequences have been dire.
Community initiatives that deliver vital services, such as the Pilton Community Health Project, are at risk – and others have been lost for good.
There is a housing crisis and a social care crisis in the city, with our most vulnerable residents paying the price.
When constitutional politics dominates the agenda, public services always suffer – but this must change in 2019.
It is pointless – and impossible – to predict what will happen in the coming months. However, as always at the start of a new year, I am optimistic and hopeful.
Optimistic that the travesty of Brexit can be stopped, and hopeful that the delivery of public services will once again rise to the top of the political agenda.
A happy New Year to all News readers, and my very best wishes for 2019.
SNP Government lets down kids in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas
Next week, the consultation period for the project to build a replacement Castlebrae High School will get under way.
This moment has been a long time coming.
The 12-week consultation period comes before formal submission of the planning application, and will include initial design concepts.
For those in the local area who want to find out more, look out for adverts in this newspaper and check out the council’s website from next Monday. There will also be local drop-in sessions for residents.
It’s great news that a new school is finally on course to be delivered.
However, I remain disappointed that council chiefs have been forced to press ahead with scaled-back proposals for Castlebrae.
That’s because if they wait to find out if the Scottish Government is willing to put up cash to deliver the new school the community deserves, they will have to hold on until 2021 to learn their fate.
That’s far too long for children to be taught in unfit classrooms.
So the council is pressing ahead by itself, using its own money for what I am hopeful will be an excellently designed school, but one that falls short of what could be delivered if the Government had helped out financially.
Ministers are letting down the Craigmillar community, which has some of the highest levels of deprivation and attainment challenges in the country.
This is utterly unacceptable, and it’s time for the SNP Government to take its devolved responsibilities seriously and use its tax powers to invest in education.