IT’S the last day of 2023, and I doubt I’m the only person who will be glad to see the back of it.

Natural disasters both in Scotland and internationally have highlighted the devastating impacts of the climate emergency. Global conflict has torn lives apart. The rise of the right in elections in New Zealand, Argentina and the Netherlands among others has seen progress unravel before our eyes. And here in Scotland and the wider UK, the Tory-manufactured culture wars have seen rising hatred to record levels.

For those of us on the left, it’s fair to say 2023 hasn’t been the best year in ­global ­politics – nor indeed Scottish or UK ­politics.

The challenges we’ve faced here in ­Scotland over the past 12 months pale in comparison to many of the global issues which have hit the headlines this year, but nonetheless have had a significant impact on the lives of Scots.

Here in Scotland, the biggest victim of 2023 has been democracy itself.

I can think of no other year in my lifetime where our democracy has been so ­consistently undermined and ­disregarded as 2023. This was the year in which ­devolution was effectively undone, where the already-laughable notion of a “union of equals” was thoroughly disproven and where a ­government Scotland didn’t vote for spent millions of taxpayer funds to ­coronate a head of state nobody voted for.

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Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

On January 16, 2023, Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack issued a ­Section 35 order, blocking the royal ­assent of the ­Gender Recognition Reform (­Scotland) Bill, a bill which had been passed overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament.

The order was an unprecedented move by Westminster, with the UK Government citing impacts on reserved legislation as the reason for the block, despite countless other bills which impact substantially more on reserved legislation having been allowed to pass without hiccup in the past.

I’ve written a fair bit over the past year about this particular outrage and the ­developments which followed it, so I won’t ­repeat myself too much here, but the ­impact of the block on Scottish democracy and the very fabric of devolution cannot be understated. The block and the outcome of the resulting legal challenge set an extremely worrying precedent – that any bill passed by the Scottish Parliament which the ­Secretary of State for Scotland dislikes can simply be vetoed by the UK ­Government, even if it sits squarely within the devolved ­competencies of Holyrood.

Devolution as we knew it is over, and with an utterly vacuous and spineless ­response to the outcome of the court ­appeal from Scottish Labour’s ­newest MP and shadow Scotland minister ­Michael Shanks confirming that a ­future Labour government would refuse to ­respect ­Scottish democracy and remove the ­order, it’s clear that the move has ­emboldened both the Tories and Labour to rule over Scotland with an iron fist, Scottish democracy be damned.

This emboldening of the current ­Westminster government was on ­display again numerous times throughout 2023, most notably in June when the UK ­Government refused to grant an ­exception to the undemocratic Internal Markets Act (which was forced on Scotland by Westminster in December 2020) to allow the implementation of the Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (the regulations for which were passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2020 – yes, six months before the legislation used to subsequently block it).

The additional irony to this particular block is that the Internal Markets Act was passed by Westminster in response to Brexit – another disaster imposed on Scotland by Westminster despite the will of the Scottish people.

These moves by Westminster over the past year have confirmed without doubt that the Scottish Secretary of State holds ultimate power over Scotland. Scotland hasn’t voted Tory once since 1959, and yet almost half the time since then has been subjected to a Tory Scottish ­Secretary. Democracy, who?

The National: Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack outside Queen Elizabeth House, the new UK Government Hub in Edinburgh. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday August 10, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Scotland. Photo credit should read: Jane Barlow/PA Wire.

Whilst we’re on the topic of ­powerful men Scotland didn’t vote for, it’d be ­remiss of me not to mention Charles Mountbatten-Windsor, a man who ­nobody has voted for in his entire life and yet was coronated this year as our head of state, an ­extraordinarily ­influential and – despite what ­monarchist ­propaganda might tell you – deeply political role exercising ultimate power over us as his subjects simply by virtue of birthright.

His coronation in May in which he was paraded around the streets of London in a golden carriage was the ultimate display of power and privilege, a huge middle ­finger to the thousands of Brits forced to use foodbanks to get by in the ­country he rules over.

Despite 40% of Scots believing we should be able to democratically choose our head of state (according to a ­YouGov poll conducted earlier this year), the ­British media establishment is ­insistent on attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, with just last week an explicitly ­pro-monarchy documentary about the coronation being aired by the BBC, our supposedly politically neutral public broadcaster (the same politically neutral BBC headed-up by former Tory election candidate director-general Tim Davie).

Westminster and the United Kingdom represent the very worst of the democratic deficit we face here in Scotland, but the SNP and the Scottish Government aren’t coming out of 2023 smelling like roses on the democracy front either.

DESPITE rightfully expressing outrage at the repeated attempts by Westminster to undermine and overrule the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament this year, Humza Yousaf himself undermined and overruled the devolved powers of every local authority in Scotland this October when he announced a council tax freeze as a last-ditch headline-grabbing policy announcement at SNP conference.

Not only that, but he broke two cornerstone Scottish Government agreements to do so, violating the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens, and the Verity House Agreement with the ­Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) with the announcement which hadn’t even been signed off by the ­Scottish Cabinet when it was made.

The council tax freeze is a bad policy in and of itself – freezing a ­regressive tax will disproportionately benefit the wealthy while starving chronically ­underfunded public services – but the move also ­fundamentally undermines ­local democracy, stripping local councils of their ability to set their own tax rates and determine their own revenue.

It’s scandalous in and of itself that the SNP haven’t yet scrapped the ­regressive council tax – a policy they’ve been ­elected with a mandate for four times now since 2007 – but to then overpower local ­authorities and force them to implement a freeze while reimbursing them at a rate of just 5% is entirely unacceptable.

Whether it’s coming from Westminster, Holyrood, or Buckingham Palace, the undermining and unravelling of Scottish democracy in 2023 has been incomparable to any other year I can remember, but it’s hard to hold out much hope for 2024.

At some point in 2024, the UK will head to the polls in a General Election. ­Regardless of who Scotland votes for, a government will almost certainly be formed by the party England votes for, with the only realistic options under the archaic first-past-the-post system being an increasingly far-right Tory Party, or a still-pretty-right-wing Labour Party.

Our democracy is broken, and 2023 has shown just how shoogly the peg it sits on is. With the journey towards independence also suffering under the weight of 2023, it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness. It’s all the more reason why 2024 must be the year in which the two major pro-independence parties – the SNP and the Scottish Greens – iron out an achievable, realistic, and clearly communicable independence strategy to escape the democratic despair that is Westminster.

That said, independence won’t solve the undemocratic power-grabs being ­perpetrated by Holyrood, but the ball is in the SNP’s court on that one and if they want to have a leg to stand on when criticising Westminster, there’s still time for them to reverse the council tax freeze and do their bit to uphold Scottish democracy.