THIS terrible pandemic has brought home to us all the importance of family.
My mum and dad are both over 80, among the most vulnerable potential victims of Covid-19.
So you can imagine my delight when I heard last night that they were now due to be vaccinated next Tuesday, by their GP in Aberdeen.
The vaccine programme is a reminder of the importance of another family — the family of nations which is our United Kingdom. From Aberdeen to Aberystwyth, Birmingham to Belfast, UK citizens are being vaccinated faster than anywhere in Europe.
And it is the strength of the ties that bind our family of nations which has made that possible.
The AstraZeneca jab, for example, was developed by scientists from across the UK, working in Oxford. The vaccine is manufactured there and in Staffordshire. And then made ready for distribution in a factory in Wrexham in Wales.
The initial investment that made this vaccine possible came from the UK Government. The research funding that goes to universities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales, which powers innovations such as this vaccine, all comes from the UK Government.
That is what family is about — pooling, sharing, learning from each other and working together.
And across the UK, in this fight against Covid-19, we are family.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Scotland yesterday, thanking those on the front line in the fight against the virus.
Alongside our NHS workers, he was also learning from the UK military personnel whose commitment has been integral to getting the vaccine distributed.
Eighty vaccine centres across Scotland are being set up by the Armed Forces, ensuring every part of our country feels the benefit of the Oxford AstraZeneca treatment.
This united effort is possible because the Prime Minister showed great leadership by setting up a Vaccine Taskforce in April last year, right at the start of our battle against this vicious virus. Under its head, Kate Bingham, the taskforce put money into a range of vaccines and developing technologies made by companies from a number of countries. It put speed and a strong supply chain above cost, paying the right price.
Above all, it invested in research — across the whole UK.
Scottish genius and can-do delivery have played an integral part in giving us maximum protection. The Valneva factory in Livingston, West Lothian, is now adding to our range of vaccines in development, and the brilliant workers there have been backed by research funding provided by the UK Government on a cross-UK basis. Working together, stronger together, we can beat this virus. And we can take inspiration from the selflessness of our NHS staff.
Earlier this week English call centres were handling 999 calls for the Scottish Ambulance Service. Taking up to one third of the work. Just as Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland-trained doctors and nurses were caring for patients in English wards.
Their achievements during the pandemic are a reminder that, with the collective strength of all the nations of the United Kingdom, we can achieve significantly more together.
And that’s true not just of the battle against the virus. It’s true also of the vital work of economic recovery to come. Companies across the UK are in a stronger position, and jobs have been saved, because the broad shoulders of the UK Treasury have enabled us to provide a massive £280billion of support this year.
There will be stormy economic weather ahead, of course, but we are in a better position to see it through in the shared house that is the UK, built on the strong foundations of more than 300 years of cooperation and solidarity.
And that is why I think it is so important that we, as a family of nations, stick together.
I know there are some people who would like to wrench Scotland out of the United Kingdom. But that would be one of the most painful divorces that any of us could contemplate.
We may have different views and perspectives on lots of issues across the UK, but surely the best way to resolve them is through co-operation, not separation.
And while we are fighting this virus together, what could be more pointless than introspective, navel-gazing argu-ments about referendums, constitutional wrangling and taskforces set up to break up the UK?
The idea that folk like my mum and dad are sitting at home desperate for an 11-point plan for independence and a new referendum bill is absurd.
They want plans for the future of our NHS, and ministers helping them to pay the fuel bill.
They listen to some politicians in Scotland arguing we should leave the UK and join the EU, pronto, and wonder if that is really the best idea just now, in the midst of this vaccination programme.
They want all of us politicians to work together across the UK.
And that’s what I do every week, meeting and talking to ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and the Northern Ireland Executive, to solve problems and support the most vulnerable.
That’s what the Prime Minister believes in and what the UK Government will continue to do.
We are family.
Let’s keep it that way.
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