Ukraine War, three Prime Ministers and cost-of-living crisis amid year of chaos underline the importance of personal relationships – Christine Jardine

I had never taken part in a walking nativity before, and there are those who might challenge my description as a ‘wise person’.
The wife and the mother of Oleg Skybyk, a Ukrainian soldier killed resisting the Russian invasion, decorate a Christmas tree on his grave (Picture: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP via Getty Images)The wife and the mother of Oleg Skybyk, a Ukrainian soldier killed resisting the Russian invasion, decorate a Christmas tree on his grave (Picture: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP via Getty Images)
The wife and the mother of Oleg Skybyk, a Ukrainian soldier killed resisting the Russian invasion, decorate a Christmas tree on his grave (Picture: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP via Getty Images)

But somehow the newness of following the star to a makeshift stable in Corstorphine to perform the Christmas story for local youngsters felt like the perfect start to a very different holiday season than we have had recently. Different but at the same time joyful and reassuringly familiar.

Because this year, for the first time since 2019, we had been able to look forward to Christmas without the fear of enforced separation from our loved ones hanging over us. And planning for 2023 does not, at least in this country, come with the caveat that everything could be subject to lockdown-related changes.

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Enjoying a cuppa and a biscuit at the post-nativity sing along in the church hall I realised that, perhaps for the first time, things might be back to normal. There are still plenty of Covid cases, and we will all know people who spent the day itself with a fever and cough, but for many the very mention of the virus no longer evokes the fear which stalked us all for three years.

Of course, this year, for many families, the cost-of-living crisis, soaring energy bills and interest rates were never far from their thoughts. And normal was dependent on not wanting to travel by train and staying healthy through the festive period.

It has been a difficult year, with so many challenges, some of which were unavoidable consequences of two years of pandemic and local businesses being largely shut down. We all knew there would be a time when furlough had to be paid for, and that businesses would feel the pinch as a result of two years of reduced income with bills to be paid.

Even our immune systems, under-used while we protected ourselves from all infections and viruses through lockdown, we understood would be stretched as they came under pressure again this winter. But what we had not anticipated as we emerged from the pandemic was a war on mainland Europe which would add an energy crisis to our list of domestic problems.

Ironically perhaps, Putin’s unjustifiable invasion and subsequent pounding of the land and people of Ukraine created a fresh moment of national unity and pride as we rallied behind those forced to flee and welcomed them into our homes. So many Christmas tables in Scotland this year were enriched by families for whom everything they know and love has been thrown into chaos by that war.

So many communities gathered round to support new members coping with fear of what may confront those left at home in Ukraine this winter. While the physical destruction of that war may remain confined to Ukraine’s borders, its impact has spread far and wide.

Not just on those energy prices I mentioned but on global economics, our perception of our relationship with Russia and our concern over Putin’s long-term ambitions which have undermined the stability of the international system.

The image of Ukraine’s President Zelensky in Washington addressing Congress, lobbying for support, would have reminded older generations of Churchill’s approaches to Roosevelt which secured similar vital backing for our early Second World War efforts.

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At the same time, we see democracy under threat across the world and suspicion over China’s intentions with its clampdown in Hong Kong, unacceptable assaults at the consulate in Manchester, and questions over its network of Confucius Institutes.

For women’s rights across the globe too, it has been a tumultuous year. In Iran there have been unprecedented protests in the streets, provoked by the death of Mahsa Amini, while in Afghanistan the collapse of western influence has halted progress for women and girls with education now denied once again.

Even in the United States, those rights have felt under threat with the reversal of the historic Roe v Wade ruling on abortion by the Supreme Court which seemed to toss aside 50 years of respect for a women’s control of her own body. Then, of course, there is the continuing saga of Donald Trump and his determination to aim again for the American presidency despite the threat of charges over his alleged attempts to overturn the legitimate outcome of the 2020 election.

And in this country, well, what is there left to say about a year in which we had three Prime Ministers, one of whom was discredited, the second trashed the economy before the third came along and tried to clear up the mess – with many of the same people who created it.

All of that mounts up to 12 months in a series of years which historians will pour over and analyse the significance of for decades to come. But for most of us it will be the personal impact that lingers. Not just the financial and economic losses but the faces who were not around the table this year or toasting the end of it with us on Saturday.

In that church hall last week, with Jingle Bells ringing in our ears and happy young voices sharing what they had asked Santa for, all of the worries about Covid, the war, the cost of living seemed to melt away.

It was a moment unseen in the last couple of years and a stark reminder of everything we all had missed. For those youngsters who were swept up in enjoying that moment, nothing else mattered.

Hopefully it was the same in houses, hotels and wherever people gathered up and down Scotland this Christmas. It has been a rollercoaster of a ride from last December to this one, but I hope that it has been good to you and yours.

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Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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