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by Kirsteen Paterson
24 December 2022
2022: The Political Year in Review

Design: Vicky Axelson

2022: The Political Year in Review

This was a year in which hopes of easier days after the hardships of Covid gave way to yet further troubles.

If 2022 was a person, it would more likely be visited by Krampus than Santa. There's been seemingly incessant political drama and bad news, and few rays of hope to bring relief. If 2022 were a book, reviewers would say it was too far-fetched.

It'll be better after Covid, thought everyone praying for easier days and economic recovery, until, as the NHS remained in a critical condition, in crept the cost-of-living crisis, spreading across the UK like black mould in an under-heated house. Average domestic fuel costs are now expected to rise to £3,000 from April.

It'll be better after Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street, thought both the Conservative party and all those who do not vote for the Conservative party, until Liz Truss asked him to hold her beer.

Truss's star burned bright during a leadership contest which lasted longer than her term as PM, from which she crashed out with a shattered reputation and a broken economy. Trickle-down economics, as pursued by Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, had left the UK floundering. Research by the Resolution Foundation think tank has put half of the Treasury's £60bn black hole at her feet.

Buyer's remorse

But then, who amongst us hasn't regretted their spending decisions? Not the Scottish Government, surely, which is still trying to navigate its way out of a long-running ferries fiasco which looks set to sail on in to 2023.

Potential costs for the two unfinished vessels at now-nationalised Ferguson Marine have risen to £338m on an initial estimate of £97m, a 248 per cent increase which makes the UK inflation rate of 10.7 per cent look rather modest in comparison. "It has proved difficult to identify how the vast sums of public money have been spent to deliver vessels 801 and 802 from the inception of the project in 2015 up to the present day," according to Public Audit Committee chair Richard Leonard. Perhaps we'll know by next Christmas.

Striking news

From boats to trains (three cheers for the temporary scrappage of peak time rail fares), transport has been a key story of 2022. The first wave of what would become a tide of public sector industrial action began at nationalised train operator ScotRail, which was also badly affected by another, unrelated dispute between Network Rail workers and the UK Government. Try setting that out succinctly in a news story - it's not easy, and nor were talks between Cosla and unions as bin strikes took place over the summer.

Those strikes made a midden of the capital during the festival as council workers there held out for a better deal from their employers. Other areas followed, and Cosla assured the public that the ongoing discussions were no trash talks. By the time an improved pay offer was made, the dispute had spread to non-teaching school staff and since then other parts of the public sector have followed in pursuit of their own improved terms.

Disputes with nursing staff, teachers and others have tested the Scottish Government and employers, and this renewed confidence in the trade union movement has been one of the biggest stories of the year, backed as it has been by widespread public support. Industrial action on the rails continues and more is scheduled for schools is scheduled for January, with nursing strike dates to come. While these remain live as the calendar year ends, it is to be hoped that the disputes will be settled well before the financial year ends in March.

Fit and proper person

"Winter of discontent" references have been thrown around in the media in the last few weeks in relation to strikes. In NHS Scotland, winter is typically a time of increased pressures and this year that's certainly true. Recent figures on staffing and performance are enough to make any health secretary ill.

The NHS has enough doctor vacancies to staff a large hospital, the BMA says, and cancer treatment waiting times have reached their worst-ever level. There's concern too over backlogs in orthopaedic surgery, child and adolescent mental health and more. The Scottish Government has a Covid recovery plan in place and is taking steps on recruitment and more, but it's not enough to inoculate ministers from criticism and, amidst calls for his sacking, Yousaf remains under real pressure.

Flying high

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has also weathered calls for her sacking, but having quit in an email scandal and been promoted back into post just days after, she's decided she's not going anywhere. Of course, it's not her own journey Braverman is most interested in. No, it's where asylum seekers end up that concerns her most, and, under the terms of the Nationality & Borders Act, she'd prefer that to be Rwanda.

Braverman famously said it was her "dream" to be on the front page of The Telegraph in a picture showing the first planeload of asylum seekers to be removed to the African country. Thanks to this month's High Court ruling that this policy is lawful, she's closer to having her wish come true, despite the condemnation of organisations including the Scottish Refugee Council and Care4Calais.

Merry Christmas, Suella; merry Christmas one and all.

Hotting up

Of course, we probably should be making the most of this Christmas. After all, it won't be long before we can do away with cooking our turkeys in the oven; just leaving them out the back door will do, given the increase in extreme weather. Okay, so it's far less funny than anything that fell out of a cracker, but so is irreversible climate change. The Climate Change Committee recently reported the grim news that Scotland's lead on climate change targets is slipping away, and the Met Office says 2023 is likely to be one of the hottest on record.

It'll be the tenth consecutive year that global temperatures have been 1C over pre-industrial levels, sitting at around +1.2C. After wildfires devastated parts of Europe and Australia this summer, we can imagine what is coming.

Indyref2023?

Thankfully in Scotland we have found a way to reduce the overall temperature. Yes, I mean the calm and reasoned practice of constitutional debate – no hot air there.

With no sign of a renewed Edinburgh Agreement to pave the way for its hoped-for October 2023 indyref2, the Scottish Government had hoped the Supreme Court would rule that the Scottish Parliament could hold an advisory ballot without a Section 30 Order. Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain had lacked the confidence that this would be the case, and the justices found that competence was reserved to Westminster.

The SNP-Greens government will now use its £20m indyref2 fund to extend help to the worst-off households, and the SNP will meet in January to decide its strategy. A plan to use a general election as a "de facto referendum" has been outlined, but not yet coloured in, and this will no doubt become one of the stories of 2023.

End of an era

There was a break from politics-as-usual when Queen Elizabeth died in the summer. Her death at Balmoral meant Scotland was the centre of initial ceremonies, with the funeral cortege travelling to Edinburgh, where 30,000 visited her coffin, before moving on to London and Windsor.

King Charles has taken the throne in a very different era to that in which his mother picked up the crown, and since the solemnities of her funeral, the Royal family has found itself at the centre of a family drama which has kept it in the headlines for very different reasons.

Lights out

The Scottish Parliament ended the year in the way that so many of us do – up til midnight and speaking til we’re hoarse. This was no party though, it was stage three of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

Never in the history of devolution has a piece of legislation been so divisive. The Scottish Government bill has been Schrodinger’s legislation, something which, in the same discussion, can be referred to as a small administrative change and a fundamental shift in rights for a protected group. Something which has been both “rushed through” parliament and become the “most scrutinised” piece of legislation since 1999.

Two days of debate over 153 amendments was slated for the final week of business before recess, and all signs pointed to a prolonged process, thanks not only to the sheer number of amendments tabled but also to the surprising sidesteps into issues including biodiversity and questions over parliamentary rules from seasoned MSPs.

Rumours circulated that the first day’s sitting could run until 2am, but this was proven wrong. Had parliamentarians resolved their differences? No, the parliament’s lights were on a timer and switched off at midnight.

I’d end by inserting a metaphor here, but seeing as it’s Christmas, I’ll leave you to add your own.

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