If Covid takes a back seat, what's on the political agenda for 2022? – Ian Swanson
No-one ever knows what the future holds, but the past two years have reminded us just how easily expectations can be confounded.
[Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article.]
The coronavirus rollercoaster has played fast and loose with our hopes and fears. Just when we thought we could see light at the end of the tunnel, a new obstacle would appear in our way.
After the disappointment of having to endure another year dominated by Covid, dare we hope that 2022 could see the end of the pandemic and a return to some kind of "normal" life?
The Omicron variant means the new year is starting with concerns about schools and other vital parts of society being hit by staff shortages because people are self-isolating. But the apparently milder effects of Omicron have raised hopes that somehow it signals a weakening of the virus and its influence.
Both the UK and Scottish governments will be hoping Covid begins to take a back seat and they can focus their attention elsewhere.
So what else might be on the agenda for 2022?
Having won last year's Holyrood elections, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are in the early stages of a new five-year term of office. But even if the virus takes up less time and energy, the promise of a second independence referendum seems unlikely to be fulfilled anytime soon.
The UK government shows little sign of being ready to concede a fresh vote, leaving Ms Sturgeon to decide whether to put forward plans which would then be challenged in court and probably lead to a refusal of a new referendum.
Scotland's political parties will, however, face another test at the ballot box when voters go to the polls in the council elections in May. Although the Scottish Parliament separated the Holyrood and council elections to encourage a focus on local issues, it is usually the parties' national standing which is the biggest influence on the result.
In Edinburgh, as in many other places, the chances are the SNP will come out ahead, but there will also be interest in how well, or badly, Labour and the Tories perform.
Brexit is expected to cast its shadow over us again with the implementation of repeatedly postponed border controls on imports from the EU. The extra paperwork is predicted to lead to delays and more problems with supply chains.
And the economic situation looks bleak for many people already struggling.
The Resolution Foundation has warned of a “cost of living catastrophe” and says 2022 will be the “year of the squeeze”, with tax changes and an energy price increase both coming in April. And the foundation says rising inflation means real wages have already started falling.
The cost of living crisis could add to disillusionment with Boris Johnson and his colleagues who have already felt a public backlash on the blatant flouting of Covid rules over Christmas parties in Downing Street.
The Prime Minister does not need to call an election until 2024. But the poor publicity and plummeting poll ratings will worry him.
They help to move Labour to where they need to be, as a credible alternative government, and confirm people's doubts about Mr Johnson as a serious politician. If things don’t improve for him, 2022 could see him become the latest Tory leader to be ruthlessly disposed of.