Light at the end of the tunnel
As readers know only too well Covid-19 has impacted on most of our lives for much of this year and, realistically, will continue to do so well into 2021.
However, I warmly welcome confirmation this week that the first effective coronavirus vaccine has reached an advanced stage and has already demonstrated in tests a potential capability of preventing 90 per cent of those immunised catching the virus.
I certainly hope this will be the light at the end of the tunnel that so many of us have been waiting for although I agree with the Prime Minister that it would be folly to let down our guard for some time yet.
The hard facts are that the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow -- sadly impacting in our region on schools, care homes, the NHS, wider community and economy.
As I know from personal experience, and that of my family, this highly infectious respiratory disease can prove very aggressive and is sadly, for some, potentially fatal.
The UK has an order for 20 million twin doses of the front runner vaccine which is being developed by American company Pfizer and BioNTech from Germany and also other substantial orders with UK and overseas pharmaceutical teams who are making amazing progress.
I know just how difficult a time this has been for my constituents, many of whom have made big sacrifices, but I firmly believe we may now be starting to turn a corner.
A special day for reflection
My wife Ann and I felt privileged on Remembrance Sunday to visit and a lay poppy wreath at the main town war memorials across the Dumfries and Galloway constituency.
Starting at Dumfries War Memorial, outside St John's Church, we made our way west and also laid a wreath at Stranraer, Newton Stewart, Kirkcudbright, Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas.
Remembrance Day has a special place in the life of my constituency, as it does nationally, and I believe it provides an opportunity to highlight to younger generations the contribution made by so many in the cause of preserving the freedom we cherish today.
Covid-19 restrictions meant that the usually well-supported ceremonies at our war memorials were understandably scaled back this year but Ann and I welcomed the opportunity to privately pay our respects and reflect on the contribution of all those whose names appear on memorials.
May I take this opportunity to thank all the Legion Scotland, Poppyscotland and other volunteers who help organise Remembrance commemorations each year at large and small, urban and rural memorials, year after year.
Local polling places are valued
The ability to cast a vote at a polling station in our own community is at the foundation of the democratic system.
That's why I was surprised so many polling stations could potentially be dropped as a result of an ongoing statutory review by Dumfries and Galloway Council.
A series of mergers and other changes could see familiar polling places disappear if proposals being considered go through.
Rural polling places, some with poor public transport, may not be used again even though the alternative could be some miles away.
Port Logan Hall, Stoneykirk, Cairnryan, Lochans, Dunragit, New Luce, Glentrool and Carsluith are just some of the familiar polling places under threat in the west of the region.
Councils are obliged to hold reviews but removing so many polling stations could further distance local communities from the democratic process and, for those who like to make their decision at the end of political campaigns, a postal vote is not the solution.
The removal of polling stations from communities weakens the front line of democracy, making it less convenient to vote and further diluting community identity and a sense of occasion from elections.
Making the most of Hallowe'en
The past months have not been an easy time for children as Covid-19 measures, at times, must have made it seem like their lives had been turned up-side-down.
But I was delighted to see that, whilst door-to-door visits at Hallowe'en were an understandable no-go, a number of well-organsied socially-distanced events took place.
As readers would notice from the pictures in last week's Free Press the children -- and adults -- enjoyed themselves greatly and the costumes were colourful and imaginative.
We are going through a difficult period, and my thoughts are very much those who have lost loved ones to cornonavirus, but it is also reassuring to see such examples of the strength of community spirit across our fantastic area.
Festival Company worthy winners
Warmest congratulations to all the winners in the Dumfries and Galloway Chamber Business Awards which were announced in a virtual ceremony through a Facebook video stream on Friday night.
I was glad to see the west of the region was well represented with the Wigtown Festival Company receiving the award for Outstanding Tourism Business or Organisation. I'm sure many locally will agree they were very worthy winners.
Because of Covid-19, the normally well-attended annual ceremony, usually held earlier in the year, had to be postponed and, in my view, host Lee Medd and all the team at DG Chamber, deserve an award of their own for delivering the event safely.
Perhaps the new award category should be called 'resilience during a pandemic'?
Excellent time to shop local
With Christmas approaching and a very different holiday in prospect, many readers are no doubt compiling their gift shopping list.
If the editor permits, I would like to finish this month's column with a timely plug for our many local shops and businesses.
They offer an extensive range of goods and services and I know your custom will be greatly appreciated after such a challenging year.