As 2018 gets into full swing, much like 2017 Scottish politics is likely to be shaped primarily by two big issues: the terms of Brexit and its consequences for IndyRef2.
One advantage for us, the voters, is that there will be a year of relative peace on the doorstep, as for the first time since 2013 the year ‘may’ (emphasis on ‘may’) pass without a referendum or national election being staged.
On the key issue of whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2, given the electoral bloody nose the party received at the snap general election in 2017, the First Minister will undoubtedly keep the powder dry on her intentions until later in the year, when the nature of the Brexit transition deal becomes clearer. On this more later.
One other big political set-piece is due to take place in the opening months of 2018 is the publication of the SNP’s Growth Commission report into the finances of an independent Scotland. Designed to lay the groundwork for another vote, it will make a series of crucial recommendations about the currency the country might use and how it might grow its economy.
After a decade in power attention will focus on how the minority SNP administration is using its devolved powers, with a specific focus on health, education, and income tax changes. Outlined in the Draft Scottish Budget last month this highlighted modest tax rises for higher earners and cuts for low income Scots.
However, while SNP difficulties seem certain, it is unclear which party, if any, will be the beneficiary.
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson may have enjoyed electoral success, through making the pro-Union cause her own, but none of her achievements have been on domestic policy.
She should be able to use income tax rises to her advantage, but peak Tory may have been reached and Davidson’s party looks close to the upper limit of support amongst voters.
This time last year, the Scottish Labour Party seemed near to extinction, but in the snap general election it increased its MP presence and on paper its leader, Richard Leonard, has the most to gain from a year that could see Sturgeon and Davidson fight out a bloody score draw.
While IndyRef 2 seems a blur on the horizon, the implications of Brexit will keep the constitution in the foreground of political debate at Holyrood.
A stand-off looms between the Scottish and UK Governments on the transfer of powers after Brexit. During the year it is likely that the Scottish Government and the UK will finally do a deal on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will repatriate thousands of EU laws back to Britain. The big question of 2018, of course, is whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2 – and whether the UK will give its permission for another vote.
If it does happen, it is likely to be during the two-year Brexit transition period which begins in March 2019. The SNP’s mandate for another vote lasts until the next Scottish election in 2021.
Whatever happens, 2018 is likely to prove yet another rollercoaster year politically north of the border.