Today marks the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year with tomorrow bringing the promise of longer days ahead. We can only hope that this marks not only brighter but more positive days to come, and that 2022 could finally see the return to normal we all craved but were denied in the past year.

Like many others, I was deeply disappointed to have to cancel festive activities with friends, following the announcement from the First Minister and her medical advisors that we should cut back on socialising with cases of Omicron on the rise.

My heart goes out to those who are tentatively watching the news and the spikes in cases and preparing for weeks of shielding ahead but also to the hospitality businesses who have lost so much custom in the past two weeks, with last-minute cancellations from diners and visitors, but without the guarantee of financial assistance from government.

Public health should always be a priority of government policy, but wishy-washy advice as opposed to clear and concise guidance is not only detrimental to public health – as it gives permission to those who chose to ignore it – but it passes the buck of responsibility on to businesses to make their own call.

Within the hospitality sector, many businesses, particularly small family-run restaurants, pubs or cafes are faced with the difficult choice to close their doors without compensation, or to encourage customers inside, but endure a tirade of fury from members of the public, accusing them of putting business ahead of public health.

If I could ask for one wish in the year ahead, it is that the blame game and online shaming which is fast becoming the mainstay of society is put to bed. There is never going to be one silver bullet to solve the current pandemic, there will always be a balance to be struck between safeguarding public health and kickstarting the economy and mistakes are going to be made.

I fear that too much time spent behind our screens and confined to our homes in the past two years has given fuel to an army of keyboard warriors who think nothing of firing off hurtful remarks without any fear of repercussion.

From within my own field of work, I’ve found it so painful over the last year to witness the pointed messages directed at farmers who have opened up on social media to share that their businesses have been struggling and, in some cases, sharing their struggles with mental health, only to be shot down by the twitter mob for “voting for Brexit and getting what they deserve”.

Since when did it became acceptable to ignore, or approve of the troubles facing others because they may or may not share a certain political affiliation? As someone who so passionately believes in freedom of speech, I do not share such a passion for freedom from consequences for those who post heinous comments.

One of the drawbacks of globalisation is that we are all privy to the deep divisions within our political arena and the petty arguments and name calling which is thrown back and forth on platforms such as Twitter. Growing up, I would look to politicians or other individuals in positions of trust and responsibility as those who would rise above trivial behaviours and set an example for others.

What hope do the rest of us have to feel obliged to perform a morality check, if people in these positions are greenlighting for others that it is okay to behave in such a way.

As a journalist we are told to develop a thick skin and judging by the comments I read on some columnist’s articles, some must literally be made of iron. We all have to sleep at night, so we laugh off the disparaging and sometimes hurtful comments but is this really the example we should be setting for the next generation of reporters to follow in our footsteps?

As journalists we too often have the difficult job of interviewing those who do not have a tough skin and as a result of the insensitive, often anonymous comments of others, have battled with poor mental health and in some cases even lost loved ones to suicide. Proving that the old adage, that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, has never rung truer.

I may be a little delusional in asking for 2022 to be the year for finger pointing and public shaming to come to an end, with the First Minister making it perfectly clear that the campaign for independence will begin.

With a timeframe set for the end of 2023 for the referendum itself to take place, rest assured we are in for a long and messy road ahead, characterised by deep division.

For those who remember the lead up to 2014’s referendum and the arguments which tore families and friends apart, I fear that debates are only going to become more bitter and divided at a time where communities need to band together to support one another to come through the pandemic and rebuild their lives.

I don’t believe this is an argument reserved only for opposition parties but one which should be voiced for the greater good of society. A society which in many ways is too fragile to hold a balanced constitutional debate, which is what is needed, if we are to consider a path which will change the course of our future for good.

With Christmas and New Year around the corner, we will all be looking to make new year resolutions. Many of which will die on their head in the first two weeks, like giving up wine or going to the gym, but we can all make a commitment to being kinder to one another and recognising that although our words might not always be met with consequences, let’s not forget that the same cannot be said for the impact they might have on others.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Herald.