• Thu. May 30th, 2024

Scottish Politics: the year in review

ByMaryse Bots

Jan 3, 2024
An image of Scottish Parliament with the Salisbury Crags in the background.

Holyrood had a tumultuous and chaotic year; seeing two First Ministers, a myriad of court cases, a host of party defections and a number of arrested politicians. 

The year started with Secretary Alister Jack blocking the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from reaching Royal Assent, which was followed by months of legal quarrels between the UK and Scottish governments.

This in turn led to a shock resignation, as Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon withdrew from her post in February. 

Read More: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to resign

She cited the Gender bill as well as strikes, a row on transgender prisoners and the mental burden of being First Minister as the reasons for this decision, stating:

“Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But in truth that can only be done, by anyone, for so long.”

Following this announcement, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf took on the role of First Minister in March.

This came after an internal battle within the SNP between Yousaf and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, with Yousaf ultimately taking 52% of the votes. 

Read More: Humza Yousaf appointed SNP leader, to be Scotland’s next First Minister

Days later, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – Sturgeon’s husband – stepped down after providing false SNP membership figures and within the week he was arrested in connection with a probe into the SNP’s finances.

This prompted a house search in April of the residence Murrell shares with Sturgeon, which was followed by the arrest of the then party treasurer Colin Beattie, who was subsequently released without charges. 

In June the arrest of Nicola Sturgeon made headlines, as she was detained by Police Scotland for their investigation into the party’s finances. She denied any accusations, stating:

“I am certain I have done nothing wrong.”

This investigation, coined Operation Branchform, is centered around the £600,000 of donations given to the SNP in 2021 and is currently still ongoing.

Read More: Nicola Sturgeon arrested in investigation into SNPs finances

Summer then came and went with a few expulsions of SNP MPs. Margaret Ferrier was ousted from the Commons for 30 days after being convicted of breaching coronavirus restrictions. 

Another MP, Angus MacNeil, was expelled from the party after an internal row with the party’s chief whip.

In September, the SNP returned to what they love: independence. Yousaf hardlined the party’s independence strategy, which was formally voted on weeks later at the party conference in October.

The newly revised strategy states that the SNP has to win a majority of Scottish seats in Westminster in the next general elections to invoke new independence talks. 

Read More: SNP backs Humza Yousaf’s amended independence strategy at SNP conference

In October, the world was stunned by Hamas’ surprise attack in Israel and the consequent conflict in Gaza. Yousaf subsequently announced that his in-laws were stuck in Gaza and repeatedly called for a ceasefire. 

Rutherglen and Hamilton West’s by-election in October led to disappointment for the SNP, as Labour’s Michael Shanks won by more than double the number of votes for the SNP’s Katy Loudon. 

Read More: Labour triumphs against SNP to win Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election

This was followed by a number of defections, starting with SNP MP Lisa Cameron defecting to the Tories, describing the SNP as “toxic”. Weeks later, former minister Ash Regan became Alba Party’s Holyrood leader and first MSP. 

This frenzy of an October ended with the Covid-19 inquiry, in which a lawyer for the inquiry said a “majority” of informal messages had “not been retained” by the Government. The Scottish Government consequently pledged to hand-over 14,000 messages to the investigation.

November began with news breaking over an £11,000 data roaming bill on the Health Secretary Michael Matheson’s parliamentary iPad during a holiday in Morocco. 

He later admitted that the bill had been racked up by his sons, who used the iPad as a hotspot to watch a Rangers v Celtics game. 

In December, the Court of Session upheld the block of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The Scottish government then announced they would not appeal this decision. 

Finally, the year ended with the announcement of the Scottish budget by Finance Secretary Shona Robison, creating a new tax band to shore up public finances. 

Read More: Scottish Government announces Scottish Budget 2024/25

A year full of controversy, defections and investigations in Scottish Politics comes to a close. 

2024 will likely see further results of the various ongoing investigations and a run-up to the general elections, which has to be held before 28 January 2025.

Image via Rayna Carruthers.