WATCH: Alex Cole-Hamilton’s New Year Message

Alex Cole-Hamilton has recorded his first New Year Message as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The text is below:

The turn of the year is a time of renewal, of looking ahead to the year to come – but it’s also a time to reflect on the year that’s just passed.

It’s hard to imagine that at this time last year, barely anyone had received their first dose of a Covid vaccine.

“It makes it all the more astonishing then that most people have now received their third booster dose. That’s miraculous. I want to thank all of the vaccinators around our country for their efforts. It’s meant that 2021 has allowed us to see real progress both in Scotland and across the world in our fight against the pandemic and allowed us to get back to some kind of normality.

The emergence of Omicron feels like a setback, but we are better prepared now than we’ve ever been to face the challenges it presents. It should remind us however, that for as long as big parts of the world remain unvaccinated then the emergence of new variants will keep happening. It’s wrong that rich countries should stockpile vaccine supplies we will never use while poorer countries go without. That needs to change.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to work across party lines to help find our way out of this pandemic, but where it matters, we will challenge the government too. It’s vital for opposition parties to challenge the government when they are suspending rights and freedoms, if there is not a demonstrable need to do so. It’s why we fought so hard to protect your right to medical privacy. It’s also why we’re trying to stop the SNP government from keeping forever the sweeping emergency covid powers they were given at the start of the pandemic.

I’ve also been working every day to get the government to do more for the 100,000 Scots who are suffering from long Covid. This could be the biggest mass disabling event since the world wars and yet sufferers are getting very little from the SNP.

Our role as an opposition party is to offer solutions as much as criticism and that’s what I’ve tried to do in my first months as party leader. I want to offer new hope to our nation on the climate emergency, on hospital waiting times, for young people and for business. I got into politics to make a difference, not just to complain. That’s why my new year’s resolution is to find consensus where I can, and to offer constructive criticism where I can’t.

New hope is very much on the horizon; we just need to work together to get there. I hope you have a very happy new year.

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11 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 1st Jan '22 - 10:13am

    Yes, ACH is absolutely correct on a number of points here: it is amazing how well Scotland has done in getting its population vaccinated and the fact that we are the most vaccinated country in the UK is a real achievement considering the extra logistical challenges we face in having large areas with lower population densities. He is also correct that with only 4 MSPs the only way for the Liberal Democrats to make themselves heard is to offer constructive criticisms/suggestions rather than just oppose for opposition sake. With the SNP now in its 14th successive year of government, the Liberal Democrats need to find a compelling alternative vision to what the SNP is offering – I believe Confederation rather than Federalism could be that offering.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan '22 - 11:51am

    “it is amazing how well Scotland has done in getting its population vaccinated and the fact that we are the most vaccinated country in the UK is a real achievement”

    You’re assuming that the limiting factor is the willingness of Government to provide the vaccines and the organisational structure to deliver them. ‘Populations’ can’t be compared to herds of cattle with a Government as the farmer who ‘gets’ the herd vaccinated.

    The rates of vaccination in London are lower than in the rest of the country whether we view that to be England or the UK. We can all have our opinions on whether this is down to Govt or the particular preferences of London residents. I’d go for the latter. Govts have provided the opportunity for everyone to be adequately vaccinated throughout the UK but I think we all agree that we shouldn’t force anyone to ‘get’ vaccinated.

    Having said that, we don’t want to make life too easy for those who choose to stay unvaccinated and this is where the Scottish government has showed the worth of vaccine passports but which are totally against Lib Dem policy!

  • Brad Barrows 1st Jan '22 - 1:35pm

    @Peter Martin
    You make a good point though I do think the government has a crucial role to play in setting out a vision and persuading people to follow. That we now have 91.5% of over 12 year olds who have taken one dose is a considerable achievement.

  • @ Peter – I don’t think vaccine passports have had much impact on vaccine uptake. There may have been a brief acceleration of uptake amongst those who planned to do so anyway, but hadn’t got around to it. But there’s a danger in the long-term that in relying on passports to possibly increase vaccination rates, those who are vaccine hesitant see vaccines as part of a transactional arrangement, rather than something that’s good for them and the wider community. This can cause problems in the longer term.

    Before it was decided to cancel Edinburgh’s official Hogmanay celebrations, there was to be a requirement that all attendees had to have proof of a negative LFT, as they’d worked out vaccine passports weren’t up to the job.

    I have a friend who begrudgingly got their first two doses, and even registered for their booster. However, as soon as his home nation went onto the red list, he cancelled. His reasoning was ‘what’s the point if being vaccinated isn’t enough to avoid having to quarantine?’ It’s often those from immigrant communities or ethnic minorities who are most vaccine hesitant. Vaccine passports risk adding to their sense of alienation. Scotland shouldn’t get too smug about high rates of vaccination when that may well be due to having fewer immigrants and non-white residents.

    And of course the cost of ‘enforcement’ is borne by the night-time economy, which has been hit the hardest by the pandemic. The worst thing is that vaccine passports don’t make venues safe – they simply give a false sense of security, albeit while each individual present less likely to become seriously ill than they would have been without a vaccine. They make sense if you are entering a country, or going on a cruise, or in certain work-places. It makes sense if universities want to have only vaccinated staff and students on campus or anywhere else where there’s a duty of care or there are consequences to that organisation of high levels of absence etc.

  • It should remind us however, that for as long as big parts of the world remain unvaccinated then the emergence of new variants will keep happening.

    Even a third ‘booster’ vaccination is only claimed to provide 70% protection from symptomatic infection. Vaccination makes the emergence of new variants that escape the vaccine more likely.

    It’s wrong that rich countries should stockpile vaccine supplies we will never use while poorer countries go without. That needs to change.

    It already has changed; stockpiling is now being done by poorer countries…

    ‘World has stockpiled ‘more Covid vaccines than it can use’’ [5th. December 2021]:
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/e69cb47c-5549-11ec-9ca1-1eec44899057

    Only 246 million of 384 million doses delivered to African countries have been administered, according to data from Airfinity, a health data firm. This suggests a third of Africa’s vaccine deliveries — or 138 million doses — remain in storage. […]

    …many countries have given out less than half of their delivered stocks. In South Africa, thought to be the origin of the Omicron variant, only 25 per cent of the population have been vaccinated. Yet 11 million doses delivered to the country are yet to be administered amid significant vaccine hesitancy.

    Nigeria has taken 20 million deliveries, but administered 10 million doses. More than 16 million have gone to Kenya, but 7 million have been used. Libya has taken 54 million deliveries, but given only 24 million jabs, 44 per cent of its stocks. In Djibouti, that figure is 22 per cent.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan ’22 – 11:51am:
    …we don’t want to make life too easy for those who choose to stay unvaccinated and this is where the Scottish government has showed the worth of vaccine passports but which are totally against Lib Dem policy!

    The fully vaccinated person or persons unknown who used their Vaccine Passport to fly into the UK bringing Omicron with them has greatly helped its spread. Almost all spreading by adults is now by the fully vaccinated, not least because most adults are vaccinated, but also because adults who test positive are more likely to be vaccinated than not. For those aged between 30 and 60 the vaccinated now have over twice the rate of cases per 100,000 (7,803.9) as the unvaccinated (3,814.1)…

    UK Health Security Agency: ‘COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report Week 51’:
    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1043608/Vaccine_surveillance_report_-_week_51.pdf

    In individuals aged greater than 30, the rate of a positive COVID-19 test is higher in vaccinated individuals compared to unvaccinated (Table 11).

    That needs to be updated – from Week 50, the data now shows it applies to individuals aged over 18.

    From Table 11, here are the cases per 100,000 reported by specimen date between week 47 and week 50 2021, for each age range, for persons “vaccinated with 2 doses” / “not vaccinated”: Under 18: 635.5 / 2,973.9, 18-29: 2,809.1 / 1,603.5, 30-39: 2,985.1 / 1,510.3, 40-49: 3,049.9 / 1,320.1, 50-59: 1,768.9 / 983.7, 60-69: 863.5 / 688.4, 70-79: 338.2 / 512.6, 80 and over: 280.3 / 568.5.

    Vaccines are useful in protecting against severe disease, but only briefly interfere with infection and transmission. In reality, vaccine passports are nothing more than Spreader Permits.

    I predicted this would become the case in a discussion back in the summer…

    ‘Scottish Lib Dems oppose vaccine passports’ [1st. September 2021]:
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/scottish-lib-dems-oppose-vaccine-passports-68502.html#comment-559600

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan '22 - 9:32pm

    @ Jeff,

    “Vaccines are useful in protecting against severe disease, but only briefly interfere with infection and transmission”

    Nonsense.

    If the vaccine reduces symptoms, such as sneezing and coughing, both in severity and duration, then it will reduce the transmission to, and infection of others.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2294250-how-much-less-likely-are-you-to-spread-covid-19-if-youre-vaccinated/

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan ’22 – 9:32pm:
    If the vaccine reduces symptoms, such as sneezing and coughing, both in severity and duration, then it will reduce the transmission to, and infection of others.

    1. The UKHSA figures speak for themselves. Of those tested, unvaccinated adults have half the positive test rate than for the vaccinated. This is because most of the unvaccinated have immunity due to a previous natural infection. Such infections have typically been acquired since last summer and confer better immunity than the vaccine alone (as the immune system has been exposed to the whole virus). It was the case in the first half of last year that the vaccinated were less likely to be infected than the unvaccinated and that’s still the case with under 18s now. But as more and more unvaccinated adults contracted the virus average immunity in the unvaccinated has risen to exceed that of the vaccinated. This is what I said was likely to happen back in early September. Relatively few adults now have no immunity at all, so adult spread is mostly among the vaccinated.

    UK Health Security Agency: ‘COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report Week 51’:
    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1043608/Vaccine_surveillance_report_-_week_51.pdf

    Based on antibody testing of blood donors, 98.4% of the adult population now have antibodies to COVID-19 from either infection or vaccination compared to 22.7% that have antibodies from infection alone.

    2. The primary means of transmission is now known to be via aerosolised virus in exhaled breath. While expelled droplets in coughs and sneezes do contribute they can be mitigated by face masks.

    ‘The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill’ [May 2021]:
    https://www.wired.com/story/the-teeny-tiny-scientific-screwup-that-helped-covid-kill/

    On Friday, April 30, the WHO quietly updated a page on its website. In a section on how the coronavirus gets transmitted, the text now states that the virus can spread via aerosols as well as larger droplets. […] …perhaps the biggest news of the pandemic passed with no news conference, no big declaration. If you weren’t paying attention, it was easy to miss.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan ’22 – 9:32pm:
    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2294250-how-much-less-likely-are-you-to-spread-covid-19-if-youre-vaccinated/

    That’s for the delta variant. Numerous other studies have shown little if any difference in transmission between vaccinated and unvaccinated. Vaccination status is misleading as some (now most) of the unvaccinated will have acquired immunity from a previous infection. Any comparison needs to be between those with some immunity (from vaccination or prior infection) and those with no immunity.

    ‘No Significant Difference in Viral Load Between Vaccinated and Unvaccinated, Asymptomatic and Symptomatic Groups When Infected with SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant’ [5th. October 2021]:
    https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.09.28.21264262v2

    We found no significant difference in cycle threshold values between vaccinated and unvaccinated, asymptomatic and symptomatic groups infected with SARS-CoV-2 Delta.

    ‘What is the vaccine effect on reducing transmission in the context of the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant?’ [29th. October 2021]:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8554481/

    This study confirms that COVID-19 vaccination reduces the risk of delta variant infection and also accelerates viral clearance in the context of the delta variant. However, this study unfortunately also highlights that the vaccine effect on reducing transmission is minimal in the context of delta variant circulation.

    ‘Shedding of Infectious SARS-CoV-2 Despite Vaccination’ [6th. November 2021]:
    https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.07.31.21261387v6

    To determine whether infectious virus titers differed in vaccinated and unvaccinated persons, we performed plaque assays on an additional set of 48 samples with Ct <25, finding no difference in infectious virus titer between groups.

  • @Peter Martin
    Nonsense.
    If the vaccine reduces symptoms, such as sneezing and coughing, both in severity and duration, then it will reduce the transmission to, and infection of others.

    That is nonsense!
    The symptoms only arise once the body has started to react to the infection.
    We know with CoVid, that it evades the bodies defences and so is able to reproduce and be infectious for several days before a person exhibit symptoms.
    What we are seeing with the vaccines is that people have a reduced period in which they can infect others and will tend to have milder immune response, because the body has been primed to react and thus has better “viral clearance”.

    Digression: The level of investment in CoViD has meant we now have lots of scientific research, one promising branch has identified those parts of the Sars-Cov2 virus that haven’t changed and give hope that a new vaccine targeting these “protected” elements, could give better and longer-lasting protection.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jan '22 - 3:39pm

    @ Roland,

    “The symptoms only arise once the body has started to react to the infection.”

    The reaction to infection is a defensive mechanism. If the body didn’t react the infection would result in death. Wouldn’t that count as a symptom?

    @ Jeff,

    “That’s for the delta variant.”

    Do you have any evidence that the omicron variant behaves differently?

    When a new virus hits a unvaccinated population we initially see an exponential rise in cases. Then we see a maximum, and later the case numbers drop, also exponentially. They drop because the antibodies of those previously infected present an obstacle to new infections. At the end of the epidemic not every member of the population will have been infected. Typically we’d expect something like 25% to escape. They escape because they have been effectively protected by the antibodies of others.

    Vaccines change the picture by inducing those antibodies without the need for the individual to be seriously infected. They will protect others in the same way as naturally induced antibodies.

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