FIRSTLY, a very Happy New Year to you all. Jonathon and I for once had a restful time with family and friends in Stirling and I feel the better for it. I’m itching to get back on the doors.

It is going to be a big year. A decade on from the independence referendum, there will be not one, not two but three elections this year – all of which will have an impact on us in one way or another.

A European Parliament election on June 6-9 will, for the first time since 1979, be held without us. Another will be the US presidential election on November 5. The one we can vote in though is the UK General Election.

My campaign team in Stirling and Strathallan is aiming for May 2 but once Parliament is back next week, it can be called at any time of the Prime Minister’s choosing because the UK is an unserious joke of a place.

All three elections will have ramifications for us in the independence movement. In the rest of Europe issues such as migration, the cost of living and unemployment remain pressing factors which populist parties will tap into, while the EU grapples with these issues and climate change and the war in Ukraine. It’s not guaranteed that the populists on the far right and far left will win, but they’re on the rise.

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The Von der Leyen Commission has succeeded in weaning Europe off Russian oil and gas following Putin’s renewed invasion of Ukraine in 2022, as well as providing economic and military support to Ukraine. Co-operation in security and foreign policy has been deepened. New regulations which protect workers, remove bureaucratic barriers to business and lead to sustainable growth have been introduced.

The accession processes for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have also been streamlined. These are big wins – but the challenge is to ensure Europe remains united as the challenges facing liberal democracy continue to grow. Especially when the populists aren’t interested in stolid boring incremental progress and will do their best to diminish the achievements.

Across the pond, the Trumpists continue their march demanding their way or no way in their election. Colorado has already removed Trump from the presidential ballot due to his actions on January 6, 2020, and other states may follow suit – though this has not stopped Republican polls showing that he remains the favourite to win the candidacy for a third time.

It has not even deterred others from backing him despite his obvious anti-democratic leanings.

Again, though, this election is not a foregone conclusion. Biden has been able to get legislation and policies through Congress that plenty thought would be consigned to the dustbin of history. The Inflation Reduction Act has spurred new investment in green jobs and creating new industries, starting the transformation of the US’s rust belt into the green belt.

The National: Joe Biden

AS with the EU, aid and weapons have helped Ukraine stave off the Russian invasion, even if they remain controversial in some quarters. And while there is rightful wariness about engagement with China, Biden’s actions have helped cool tensions and find avenues of co-operation such as climate change.

Of course, as always, a big indication of how the Democrats will do depends on the state of the US economy in the summer – a strong economy, and they might hold the White House; a poor performance, and we should be wary about what the ramifications of an isolationist, unpredictable and volatile US under Trump might mean for us all. So what of the UK’s own election? Scottish polls have the SNP ahead here. UK polls have Labour in the lead, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

Unlike in 1997, when Tony Blair had an attractive programme to offer in replacing a venal and clapped-out Tory government, Sir Keir Starmer has only succeeded in making himself and his party slightly less unpalatable to the Conservatives. In the lead, yes, but not leading anything.

I’d offer the recent SNP-led Gaza ceasefire vote as evidence. It’s the Tories that have thrown it away, not Labour winning. Were it not for Boris Johnson’s behaviour, partygate and Liz Truss’s nuking of the economy with her mini-budget, I do wonder whether Labour would actually be ahead in the polls at all.

The National: Keir Starmer

Nonetheless, these things did happen, Labour are in the lead for the moment and perhaps the softly, softly approach is the best one. I hae ma doots. I don’t know what Labour are for, and that’s where I think the Tories, and indeed the SNP, will hammer them.

And so to Scotland and our own future. Cards on the table, my best outcome in a UK election, so long as we are part of it, is a minority Labour government, in office with SNP support.

I think there’s plenty we could work upon together, first and foremost the permanent devolution to Scotland of the power to hold a binding referendum on independence in time for the Holyrood election in 2026. But the only strong voice for Scotland will come from the SNP, that’s clear.

Our challenge is to show there is an alternative progressive vision for Scotland – independence in Europe – and in the meantime to put Labour’s feet to the fire in ensuring that they follow through on delivering a more progressive agenda where we do have common ground.

Three elections over the space of a year. Three elections which can help shape which world an independent Scotland emerges into. We will play our part here in securing Scotland’s future – the rest, we shall see.