A look back at the year in Scottish Politics 2021: drama and disappointment amid the pandemic

A year ago we naively thought 2021 might be the year we put the pandemic behind us and politics, and other things, would return to normal.

By Ian Swanson
Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 4:55 am

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article.

It didn't quite turn out like that. Covid is still top of the agenda in Scotland and elsewhere.

But the virus didn't stop the Holyrood elections in May, even though the normal campaigning activities were curtailed.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon takes the oath before giving evidence to the Holyrood committee on the Alex Salmond saga. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA.

And it didn't stop the drama of the Scottish Parliament's inquiry into the government's handling of the Alex Salmond saga, which saw him win a civil case against the government, then be cleared of all charges at a criminal trial, where he was accused of sexual assault and attempted rape.

The inquiry by a specially-established Holyrood committee put his protege and successor Nicola Sturgeon on the spot over what she knew and what she did.

The government's prevarication over providing documents to the committee and its reluctance to reveal legal advice did not help its case.

But the drama came to a climax at two key sessions when first Mr Salmond and later Ms Sturgeon gave hours of evidence under oath.

Ms Sturgeon is said to have warned her deputy John Swinney she would quit as First Minister if she was found to have broken the ministerial code and he should be ready to take over – just weeks before the impending election. But the verdict of the independent adviser went in her favour and she survived.

When it got to the election, it turned out Mr Salmond had a surprise planned.

He launched the new Alba party, aiming to pick up the list votes of SNP supporters and create a "super majority" for independence in the parliament.

It was the most dramatic moment of the campaign, though also a prelude to political collapse. Mr Salmond's comeback was a flop. Alba failed to win a single seat.

If Ms Sturgeon was relieved when she was cleared of breaching the ministerial code, she was probably just as glad when her one-time mentor’s return to Holyrood was thwarted.

Nevertheless the election proved a disappointment for most of the parties.

The SNP were the clear winners, but fell just short of an overall majority. Holyrood's voting system makes it very difficult for any party to pass that threshold, but the SNP did it once and now that has become the benchmark.

The Conservatives surprisingly held onto all the seats they won in 2016, which had been seen as a high-water mark for them. But new leader Douglas Ross did not have a good campaign.

In contrast, Labour's even newer leader Anas Sarwar had a good campaign, but it failed to translate into increased votes or seats.

The Lib Dems were reduced from five to four MSPs, losing their guaranteed slot at First Minister's Questions and forfeiting their place on the parliament's business bureau. Leader Willie Rennie later stepped down to be replaced by Alex Cole-Hamilton.

The Greens, however, won two extra seats and later signed a co-operation deal with the SNP, winning ministerial posts for co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater and formalising the parliamentary majority for another independence referendum.

That still looks some time off though. Ms Sturgeon insists Covid must be dealt with first. And as 2021 draws to a close, Omicron means Covid remains the number one concern.

Read More

Read More
Nicola Sturgeon: 'Time is on my side' on Scottish independence referendum push

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.