WITH war breaking out in Europe, three Prime Ministers – including one who crashed the economy - a Supreme Court showdown over independence and strikes, it seemed like 2022 could scarcely have been a more dramatic year.

But anyone predicting 2023 would offer a quieter time in the political world would – well, turn out to be completely wrong.

In a three-part series, we are examining some of the key events of the past 12 months and looking at what the year ahead might bring.

In the first part, we looked at some of the key moments at Westminster – next here’s a reflection on some of what’s gone on in Holyrood.

Westminster ‘sabotage’

The year had hardly begun when in an unprecedented move, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack announced he was enacting a Section 35 order to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill which had been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Not to be confused with a Section 30 order – that’s the one the UK Government won’t give for a second referendum – this little known part of the Scotland Act stops the Presiding Officer submitting a bill for royal assent.

The Scottish Government took the UK Government to court over its decision, but it was ruled UK ministers could use the order.

That wasn’t the only legislation blocked by Westminster. Later in the year UK ministers refused to allow Scotland to include glass in its planned deposit return scheme (DRS) – which would have been needed under the Internal Market Act which regulates UK trade post-Brexit.

Circular economy minister Lorna Slater – who described the move as “sabotage” - announced in June the DRS would be delayed until October 2025 to align with schemes across the UK, pointing out that none actually existed or had regulation in place.

The National:

Endings and beginnings

After nine years as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon began 2023 by saying she still had “plenty left in the tank”.

So her announcement that she was resigning as party leader at a surprise press conference in February (above) rocked the world of Scottish politics.

She told journalists that resigning was the best step for herself, her party and for Scotland.

It triggered the first contested leadership contest in the SNP in nearly 20 years, with Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan entering the race.

After a series of hustings and debates over issues including the independence strategy and equal marriage, Yousaf (below) was elected as the new leader on 27 March with just over 72,000 votes cast.

The National:

Turmoil within the SNP

The dust had barely settled on the leadership contest when a series of arrests were made in connection with an ongoing investigation in the funding and finances of the party.

Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell – who had resigned as SNP chief executive following a row over part membership numbers – was first to be questioned, followed by then party treasurer Colin Beattie and subsequently Sturgeon herself. They were all released without charge pending further investigation.

That wasn’t the end of the headlines for the SNP. The year saw Western Isles MP Angus McNeil – who now sits as an independent – expelled from the party following a row with chief whip Brendan O’Hara.

Veteran MSP Fergus Ewing was suspended from the party for a week following rebellions.

And in perhaps one of the not most surprising moments, former SNP leadership contender Ash Regan announced she had jumped ship to join Alba.

Meanwhile Health Secretary Michael Matheson ran into some trouble after his teenage sons used his parliamentary iPad as a hotspot to watch football games while on holiday in Morocco.

The early findings of an investigation by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body over the near £11,000 data roaming bill are expected in January.

The National:

New path to independence

The SNP leadership contest led to the postponement of a key meeting to decide on a strategy for independence, which took place in Dundee in June in the form of the Convention on Independence.

Yousaf set out his strategy based on winning most Scottish seats at the next General Election to trigger independence negotiations, but said he would consult on the proposals with members.

At the SNP conference in October, this was amended to be based on a “majority of seats” which won the backing of members.

Over the course of the year, more papers in the Building a New Scotland series were published, which was originally announced by Sturgeon.

These covered key topics including the benefits of Scotland rejoining the EU, how the constitution of an independent Scotland would be drawn up, plans for Scottish citizenship and on migration policy.

So far a total of nine papers have been published in the Building a New Scotland series.

Despite the turbulent times facing the SNP, polls showed support for independence remaining steady.

In September there was a major independence march and rally in Edinburgh, organised by Believe in Scotland and Yes for EU, which was addressed by Yousaf.

But the independence movement lost one of its icons with the death of Winnie Ewing in June at the age of 93.

Labour v SNP…and Labour v Labour

A by-election was triggered in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency following a successful recall petition against Margaret Ferrier, the former SNP MP who had been sitting as an independent since breaching covid rules.

It was billed as showdown between the SNP and Labour, with the Labour candidate Michael Shanks winning a resounding victory against the SNP’s Katy Loudon.

During the campaign, Shanks – who had once quit Labour over its stance on Brexit – vowed to campaign against the Tory two-child benefit cap, despite Starmer saying the party would keep it.

Just two weeks after making his maiden speech in the Commons, Shanks was promoted to the party’s frontbench team, but tensions over differing stances taken by UK Labour and Scottish Labour quickly rose again.

Despite pressure from within his party, Starmer called for a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza, Anas Sarwar backed a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Shanks and Labour’s other Scottish MP Ian Murray, subsequently did not back a call by the SNP in the Commons for a ceasefire.