FIRST of all, many thanks indeed to everybody who voted for me and ensured my re-election as the Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Clackmannanshire & Dunblane constituency. It really is a great honour.

I assure you that after 25 years as an elected politician the sense of responsibility towards those who have put their trust and faith in you to be their representative does not diminish, If anything it grows stronger.

There is no doubt this was an unusual election campaign, to say the least. By the end, restrictions had been lifted sufficiently that we were able to leaflet and indeed knock on doors again but, in the early part of the campaign, we were in the very odd position of trying to have as little actual contact with people as possible – which is completely counter-intuitive for a politician!

I had worried that the pandemic would depress the turnout but, in the end, the opposite was true.

People really engaged in the democratic process with a record turnout. There was, unsurprisingly, a big increase in postal voting but polling stations too were kept busy throughout the day.

That increased engagement with politics is doubtless a consequence of the very clear correlation there has been over the last year between the decisions politicians have to take, and the impact those decisions have on our daily lives.

Voters here in the Clackmannanshire & Dunblane – and across the country – heard and backed the SNP message that Scotland needs experienced leadership to continue to steer the country out of this unprecedented crisis, with a bold and ambitious policy programme to kickstart and drive recovery, and the choice of a better, fairer, more prosperous future for our country.

On an independence referendum, the question – as the first minister has made clear – is no longer if but when. The people of Scotland will have the opportunity to choose our own future.

First, though, Covid. I have been concerned to see how much time Clackmannanshire has spent "top of the league" in terms of positive Covid cases – not a title anyone wants.

So, I have been really pleased to see those figures falling significantly recently and I am certain that I am far from alone in being delighted to welcome the announcement that, as of Monday, May 17, this area, along with most of Scotland, will move to level two which means that we will be able to meet in larger groups outdoors and indoors visits, including overnight stays, in other people's houses with no need for physical distancing in those circumstances.

It is because so many people made sacrifices and followed the guidance that we were able to get on top of the case rates here in Clackmannanshire and are now able to follow the rest of the country in this further easing of restrictions, taking important steps along the road to a greater sense of normality.

So, caution remains the watchword but well done everybody and enjoy those precious hugs!