WITH the rise of Omicron, it wasn’t the Christmas that we all envisaged. It was the end of a year that lots of us have found difficult. Far too many have experienced pain and loss that could not be properly mourned.

In May I was elected as the first Green MSP for Central Scotland. It was a ground-breaking election for the Greens, but it came at a hard time for me personally. I lost two of my closest family members in the months before the vote.

It was a very difficult time. My dad, sister and brother and my other half have been supporting me and I couldn’t have done any of this without them.

I knew my way around Holyrood from having worked there as a researcher, but that couldn’t have prepared me for the summer we had. Those months were spent working with my Green colleagues to negotiate the co-operation agreement that we agreed with the Scottish Government.

It’s been a challenging time since parliamentarians returned in August, but it’s been worth it. The agreement itself was historic and has put Greens right at the heart of decision-making in Holyrood for the first time. It has allowed us to turn our policies into action and our pledges into reality.

I was pleased in June when MSPs backed my amendment calling for the establishment of safe consumption rooms. In November I announced my intention to consult on a Member’s Bill that will establish buffer zones around abortion clinics.

If New Year is a time for memories and reflections, it is also a time for hope and thinking about the future we want for ourselves and the people we care about. That can be about personal goals or milestones, but also about the changes we want to see in the country.

In the last few weeks alone, Green ministers have announced a ban on some of the worst single-use plastics, £65 million for nature restoration projects, £70m for recycling, £1.8 billion for warm homes, a new tenants rights charter and record funding for gender identity services. From January, everyone aged 21 and under will have free bus travel, opening up our country and helping to tackle inequality.

The recent Budget, which my colleagues and I helped to negotiate, commits to record funding for active travel as well as £145m for new teachers, record investment in mental health services and the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment, which will be worth an additional £500 per year to parents starting from April.

These are big changes that will make a big difference to millions of people across Scotland. They will also help us to rebuild from the pandemic and secure the fairer, greener future that we need.

The National: Alok Sharma President of the Cop26 climate summit takes part in a plenary session during the official final day of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow. Picture date: Friday November 12, 2021.

That future is needed more than ever. We are living in a climate emergency, but you wouldn’t know it from the reactions of the biggest polluters. The COP26 climate conference brought thousands of people to Glasgow, from world leaders like Joe Biden to campaigners and activists like Greta Thunberg.

There was a lot of talk, but, when push came to shove, the leaders failed to live up to their promises. The commitments were watered-down following intense lobbying from polluting industries and governments. It was a failure of leadership and a broken promise to future generations. After all of the lofty words, hype and disappointment of COP, 2022 must be the year that world leaders finally recognise the scale of the crisis and start to take it seriously.

In Scotland we are leading by example and doing our part. We are investing record amounts in wind and marine energy and transforming public transport and infrastructure for walking, wheeling and cycling. We are investing billions in decarbonising buildings and making homes warmer.

We rightly talk about climate action as a moral obligation. But a renewables revolution wouldn’t just be a good thing for our environment, it could also be transformative for our economy.

The failure of the Cambo oil project shows that the economic case for oil and gas is crumbling. That is why all governments must embrace the opportunity to build a fairer country and a better future that works for us all.

By making these changes now we will create tens of thousands of new jobs across the country and revitalise communities that have been badly hit by the pandemic.

Far too many suffered from the impact of the oil price crash in 2014, especially in areas where alternative green industries were not yet in place to provide alternative jobs. We can’t let that happen again. Areas like Grangemouth, where I grew up, can be at the centre of our transition.

All of this is possible, not just in Scotland but around the world. But it needs the political will to do it.

History books will be written about this period. Historians will consider how we responded to the pandemic and the lessons we learned. They will look at how we reacted when confronted by climate catastrophe.

I want them to tell the story of how Scotland and other countries lived up to the moment and took the action that was needed. I want them to tell the story of how 2022 was a key year in the establishment of an independent Scotland with fairness and equality at its heart.

My hope is that if I am writing a similar column at this time next year it will have a positive story to tell, not just about Scotland but also about the world. I hope that Covid has become something that we remember and learn from, rather than something we are still living through.

I hope that all governments use 2022 to make big steps towards social and environmental justice and that we are living up to the memories and ambitions of those that we have lost.

Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing tonight when the bells ring, I wish you a peaceful end to 2021 and a happy start to 2022.