DOUGLAS ROSS: Year of challenges, change and opportunities ahead as time at Westminster draws to a close
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A WEEK, as the saying goes, is a long time in politics so 12 months can bring with it a seemingly never-ending rollercoaster of challenges and triumphs.
Such has it been for Douglas Ross in his roles as MP, MSP and Scottish Conservative leader as Moray has been buffeted by issues both local and global.
Looking back on 2023, he said: "2023 was the year we finally came out of the shadow of Covid, I feel we've really moved on in terms of what we can do and how businesses operate.
"Last year has seen many global challenges to which Moray has not immune, such as energy price rises and the war in Ukraine. In Moray there have been a number of issues I've been trying to support, for example long NHS waiting times and the fall in education standards.
"The cost of living crisis has obviously been the biggest challenge we've faced and are facing. Everyone has been affected by it in some way. Inflation went up and that has had a direct impact on individuals and businesses in Moray and across the country.
"I know how important it is to try and help people and businesses so in my roles as MP and MSP I've been trying to promote Moray as a business opportunity, to help the region punch above its weight. We're very blessed with the opportunities we have here.
"While there have been many challenges in 2023 there have also been many positives. Moray will benefit greatly from the Town Fund and Levelling Up Fund, for example. Ever since I was elected as MP for Moray I've been keen to support the whisky industry, in particular the rate of duty levelled on it. I've been disappointed in the past in trying to stop increases in the rate of duty but was delighted when the Chancellor announced it would be frozen in his Autumn Statement.
"We've also seen government funding made available to help replace Cloddach Bridge.
"Yes, 2023 has brought challenges but it has also seen Moray mentioned at the highest levels."
Whatever this year brings for Mr Ross, he will face one big change for sure. At some point during 2024 there will very likely be a general election held which will mark the end of his time at Westminster. First elected in 2017, pulling off what was widely regarded as a shock victory against sitting SNP MP Angus Robertson, Mr Ross went on to hold his seat at the 2019 election.
This also saw him serve as Parliamentary Secretary of State for Scotland before resigning the post in protest at the Dominic Cummings scandal during the first Covid lockdown.
He said: "It's been a great privilege to serve Moray as its MP – especially as someone who's Moray born and bred – and support so many wonderful campaigns and groups, such as Keep MUM's campaign on maternity care in Moray.
"I made a commitment after I was elected as an MSP that I would step down as an MP at the next election and that's something I'm honouring. It will be a big change not being at Westminster but it'll mean a lot less travelling and hopefully I'll be able to see more of [wife] Krystle and my two boys."
As 2023 fades into memory 2024 brings with it both existing and new challenges and opportunities, not least the drive to get the economy into a higher gear after the battering of last year.
Mr Ross said: "We need to get the Scottish economy really moving this year; it's more sluggish than the rest of the UK.
"However, this has not been helped by certain decisions made by the SNP government which means we now have the highest tax in the UK. It makes it more difficult to attract people to Scotland and Moray if they're going to find themselves taxed more than in the rest of the UK. This, in turn, has an impact on public services.
"We face challenges in the year ahead in falling education standards. Ambulance waiting times, including at Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin, remain worrying. There're problems in getting people out of hospitals and back out into the community when their treatment has finished.
"All of these will be big political issues which affect people here in Moray and across the country.
"However, there're plenty of positives, too not least the opportunities we have to promote Moray.
"We have an outstanding food and drink industry, a vibrant tourism industry and Moray is an attractive place to live and work. The offshore wind industry is bringing jobs to Buckie and we have the benefits of the two MoD bases at Lossiemouth and Kinloss.
"There's a lot to look forward to."