FANS of Scotland’s men’s national football team faced heartbreak this time last week, with defeat to Ukraine at Hampden – an outcome which ended our hopes of qualifying for the World Cup taking place in Qatar later this year, and making our first appearance in a World Cup in more than 20 years.

Although it’s hugely disappointing that it just wasn’t to be on the night - I was there in the stadium feeling just as gutted as everyone else - the support shown to Ukraine by the Scotland supporters, players and staff was really amazing. 

It was obvious how much the win meant to the Ukrainian players and I’m sure that – despite the fact we were opponents for 90 minutes at Hampden on Wednesday - Scotland will continue to offer friendship and solidarity to Ukraine and all her people. There is no doubt that the war caused by Putin’s brutality continues to put all manner of things, including football, into perspective.

On other matters, I know that over the weekend, many people will have taken the opportunity to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in a variety of different ways.

Here in Scotland, communities will have enjoyed many different types of celebration. And for those who - for whatever reason - decided not to take part in jubilee events, the two-day bank holiday hopefully still brought some good cheer. After more than two years of Covid uncertainty, challenge, anxiety and, for many, loneliness and isolation, I hope more than anything that the weekend was a chance to spend some time with friends and loved ones.

The Queen is the first British monarch in history to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, and mark 70 years of dedicated public service. That is, by any measure, an extraordinary achievement – an important personal milestone for the Queen, and also a moment of huge historic significance.

Millions of people in Scotland have great, and very justified, respect and affection for the Queen – regardless of whether they support the monarchy or not.

That respect comes from the way she has conducted herself over the past seven decades, the service she has given, and the dedication she has always shown.

The Queen had no more choice than any of us do over the circumstances into which she was born, but no one can doubt the commitment she has shown.

Finally, I want to use this week’s column to talk again about an issue which I know is at the top of people’s minds at the moment. Poll after poll shows that people across the UK are extremely and understandably worried about the cost-of-living crisis we are facing – a crisis which is only predicted to worsen in the coming months.

It is deeply regrettable that chancellor Rishi Sunak – despite having numerous chances to support people across the UK who are facing sky-rocketing food and energy costs - has so far failed to act decisively enough to alleviate people’s fears and provide help on the scale required.

The UK currently has the highest inflation rate of any G7 country - almost twice the rate of France. Food prices are up 6% - and, make no mistake, this is due to Brexit. And the energy price cap is forecast to rise further.

Every year, the Scottish Government that I lead is forced to invest more than £700m to mitigate the impact of Westminster policies that Scotland did not vote for, such as the bedroom tax, the rape clause, and the removal of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit.

That money is also being spent to help mitigate a decade of Tory austerity, which according to research published last week by Glasgow University and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health has caused a “stalling” in improved life expectancy in Scotland.

The report suggests that people across the UK are dying younger than they should be because of the choices this Westminster government has made. It states that lower life expectancy is “principally the result of UK Government austerity policies that have squeezed billions of pounds from public services and social security and have had a devastating impact on the lives of so many in our communities.”

That is part of the price of Westminster governments - a cost-of-living crisis made worse by the Tories is just the most recent example.

The Scottish Government is using all of the powers at our disposal to tackle poverty – including the introduction of unique and ‘game-changing’ policies like the Scottish Child Payment.

However, the key levers needed to tackle poverty remain reserved to the UK Government. And, whilst we are continuously fighting against cuts imposed on Scotland by UK governments that we don’t vote for, it's difficult with such limited levers to provide the full support that people so desperately need.

It’s clear that much more needs to be done by the Prime Minister and the UK Government, but I know the question that many are asking and will continue to ask is how much worse does it have to get before the Conservatives take this crisis seriously, and start providing real help and support to people across the country?