HOLYROOD or Westminster – in the never-ending battle of governments, which has come out top in 2021?

The honest answer is neither.

This year, Nature reminded us who’s really in charge with 12 more months of illness, anxiety, business failure, delayed operations, frontline pressure and restrictions which managed to obscure the real biggie – a climate crisis that’s worsened as Covid’s taken centre stage.

Thanks to Glasgow’s COP26, Scots know that climate change is punishing the developing world hardest. But the sudden leap in oil and gas prices has swept through our dysfunctional privatised energy market like a wrecking ball – exposing Britain for what it is. A dangerously complacent, oil-rich state whose government has rested on its laurels for 40 long years, failing to switch to community renewable heating in the lazy, mistaken belief that gas supplies from Norway would protect us from global price rises. They haven’t.

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The Oil Era is drawing to a close and those trying to cling on to the old jobs, outlooks, career paths and investment patterns – however understandably – will be left behind. Scotland can’t afford to let that happen.

Equally, Covid may finally fade during 2022. But its impact on our lives and society will be long lasting. Scotland can’t afford to hirple on as if nothing’s changed – nor can we afford to “build back” bent out of shape by Boris. Or Rishi. Or Liz Truss. Or – the stuff of nightmares – Priti Patel.

Rarely has a new year dawned with so many harsh realities uppermost. And so many reasons to regard independence as the best platform for rebuilding Scotland.

So as 2021 draws to a close, let’s not sweat the small stuff. And beside the twin challenges of Covid and climate, almost every political development is very small stuff.

So how have Scotland’s Two Governments shaped up to these big, seismic challenges? Our heads shouldn’t be turned by pennies here or millions there. Our judgement shouldn’t be coloured by warm words or empty promises. There are far bigger democratic fish to fry.

Which government has provided real leadership?

Which has encouraged its citizens to indulge their dangerous fantasies about innate superiority and which has encouraged voters to abandon them?

Which government – throughout Covid – has treated its population like grown-ups capable of digesting difficult and sometimes contradictory information? And which has encouraged chaos, non-compliance and infantile hysteria (looking at you Neil Oliver) by fostering a preoccupation with individual rights when society needed solidarity and genuine common purpose?

Which government developed trust – the only currency able to really finance the long journeys ahead?

Which increased belief in our collective ability to solve big problems and which increased cynicism, anger and disengagement from the formal political system?

Which spent 2021 mortgaging our future and which went out there and started building it?

There really is no contest.

It’s been a terrible year for Westminster – a laughing stock for most Scottish voters. By contrast, the Scottish Government has turned some very important corners.

It doubled the Scottish Child payment.

It opposed drilling in the Cambo oil field (days before Shell and Siccar Point energy threw in the towel on economic grounds). That was politically difficult but absolutely the right call.

It found cash to support Scottish business through Omicron restrictions – avoiding lockdown by stealth and taking as much economic responsibility as our broken devolution settlement allows.

And it managed to avoid the scandals, U-turns, breaches of the Ministerial Code and flagrant double-standards that have wrecked public confidence in Westminster.

Boris might “get away” with his fingers-crossed approach to Omicron in England – letting infection rip without overwhelming the NHS through chronic staff shortages. But that doesn’t mean the devolved governments have been wrong to develop a more cautious approach. Any more than a cold spell negates the general trend of global warming.

The Scottish Government is developing a public health strategy – a contract with voters that will last years. It’s not just issuing random edicts or shuffling backwards and forwards from week to week like Michael Gove at a barn-dance. Nicola Sturgeon’s government is creating an outlook, a style, a way of doing things, a framework, a set of expectations it generally manages to meet and a set of procedures – like regular and truly explanatory press briefings – voters have come to appreciate and expect.

That’s proper government and it’s fundamental to the different paths taken by Holyrood and Westminster in 2021.

One accepts scientific evidence – the other doesn’t.

One is strong enough to deliver tough Covid measures – the other is too weak.

One spent 2021 training the electorate about the shared duty of improving public health and maintaining social solidarity. The other headed for the hills.

None of this is to say that the Scottish Government is perfect – far from it. But in this tale of two governments, Holyrood is way out in front. All that means though, is far higher expectations of the Scottish Government in 2022.

For Boris Johnson it will be enough to simply stumble along, without being flattened by the inquiry into financing his flat, the parties in his Downing Street home or abandoning his proposed National Insurance hike to finance a system of social care in England ahead of local elections that could see solid Tory councils like Westminster go Labour for the first time. The British Government won’t even be clocking the truly big issues let alone solving them while its leader is fighting for his political life.

BUT mere survival won’t be good enough for the Scottish Government – the bar is set much higher.

The Resolution Foundation predicts a “cost-of-living catastrophe” in 2022 with the average family facing a £1200-a-year hit as the energy price cap and National Insurance contributions rise while real incomes fall as inflation peaks in the spring at 6%.

Mitigation from the paltry Westminster pot won’t be enough to deal with this.

Tax rises are inevitable – taking Scotland even further away from the “slash and burn” tactics of Westminster.

It’ll be a big year presenting Scots with a big choice. Not between a certain UK and an uncertain iScotland.

But between two uncertain paths – one led by a man who ignores difficulty until it smacks him (or the electorate) in the face. The other led by a woman who knows her stuff and shares decision-making processes at every stage.

In an uncertain year, it’s crystal clear which approach has worked best.

The leader who came a cropper was Boris Johnson – relying on false certainty about everything from “beating” Covid on ‘Freedom Day’ to “taking back control” from Brussels and clinching “oven-ready” trade deals with the EU and USA. All policy objectives guaranteed and delivered with bombast and conviction – but all quite unachievable and rapidly abandoned.

The moral of Boris’s Annus Horribilis – life isn’t certain. Don’t pretend it is. Covid’s proved it. Brexit’s proved it.

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The leader who can steer through uncertainty is more trusted than the one who claims absolute knowledge.

That could reap dividends for indyref2 – if voters can appreciate an honest appraisal of the difficulties and opportunities of independence and can accept that no-one can deliver 100% guarantees about post-independence scenarios.

In governance, as in life, leaders reap as they sow. Boris has sown a whirlwind of suspicion, greed and selfishness. Nicola has done better.

Let’s not get too dewy-eyed, because her government must still come up with policies on currency, borders and EU membership. But the Scottish Government has (generally) encouraged a responsible, adult response from the electorate by (generally) behaving like responsible adults. It’s hardly rocket science.

But Nicola has left Boris standing in 2021. Roll on the New Year.