The past year in politics has seen dramatic resignations, shock arrests and record-breaking by-elections.
2024 promises to be just as eventful – so what are the big moments we can expect from the year ahead?
A general election – but when?
No prizes for guessing what’s at the top of the list. Officially, a general election must take place by 28 January 2025, but because no one wants to knock on doors or deliver leaflets over Christmas and New Year, it’s universally expected next year. The question is – when?
There are as many theories around Westminster as there are politicos to ask. With the Conservatives trailing behind Labour in the polls, you might expect Rishi Sunak to wait as long as he possibly can, and delay his likely ejection from 10 Downing Street. That would suggest polling day in October or November.
But there is growing speculation about an early election, perhaps in May or even before. The thinking goes that, following a Budget expected by early March, when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is likely to announce a cut to income tax, Sunak will go to the country, asking voters to back his tax giveaway.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a set of local elections in England on May 2. On current trends, the results won’t be pretty for the Conservatives, so why not get both votes out of the way in one go?
More rows over Rwanda
The other reason to suspect that an early election may be coming is the UK Government’s ongoing battle to get flights taking off for Rwanda, carrying asylum seekers deported for crossing the English Channel in small boats.
Sunak faces a battle with his own backbenchers, and with peers in the House of Lords, to get legislation passed that would clear the way for flights.
With so many Conservative MPs standing down at the next election, and many more expecting to be defeated, there are fears in government that the Tory party will become even more ungovernable. So calling an early election to win a mandate to finally get those flights away, and deliver on the pledge to stop the boats, may be a least-worst scenario for Sunak.
A police investigation… maybe
The big question hanging over Scottish politics is: When will the police conclude their investigation into the SNP’s finances?
Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, the former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, were both arrested and released without charge, as was the former party treasurer, Colin Beattie.
Operation Branchform, as the probe into whether the SNP misspent £600,000 of independence campaign donations is called, has already been running for two years.
It has already outlasted one chief constable of Police Scotland. Sir Iain Livingstone retired in August saying “the sooner this investigation is concluded, the better for everyone involved”. His successor Jo Farrell has refused to comment at all.
Even after Police Scotland hand over any evidence to prosecutors, the decision on whether to bring charges rests with the Crown Office. It’s impossible to speculate on timescales. The only thing that can safely be said is that it will be one of the most anticipated announcements in Scottish political history.
A challenge to the SNP
Against that backdrop, next year’s general election is shaping up to present the SNP with its toughest challenge in a generation.
The nationalists will face the fight of their lives to limit Labour gains across the central belt of Scotland. After a crushing defeat in the Hamilton and Rutherglen West by-election, the party must get into election shape quickly.
Failure to emerge as the biggest party in Scotland, and reach their target of 29 MPs – the threshold the party has set itself to keep calls for a second independence referendum alive – would deal a huge blow to First Minister Humza Yousaf’s authority.
A battle for the soul of the Conservatives
Likewise, the future of the Conservative Party is at stake in next year’s general election.
It’s hard to see how Sunak can reverse its fortunes in time to avoid defeat, but within the Tories, attention is already turning to the next fight – to succeed him as leader and pick up the pieces that remain.
That promises to be a battle royale between the right of the party, and the remaining moderates.
Remember this is a war that’s been raging for years, if not decades, mainly on the battlefield of EU membership. Each side has been up, then down – Boris Johnson threw a handful of potential future Tory leaders out of politics in 2019, but the return of David Cameron was a high point for the moderate wing.
Any future leadership contest is likely to include the likes of Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch and James Cleverly – but who will represent the opposite flank?
Remember that after the Tories were swept from power in 1997, the man that led them back wasn’t elected an MP until 2001. Political watchers will be keeping an eye out for the new faces elected next year.
There’s a Scottish link to the biggest political story of 2024, even though it will take place across the Atlantic.
Next year’s US presidential election promises to be one of the most consequential in American history, all because of the possible return of Donald Trump.
The former president is facing criminal prosecution over allegedly attempting to overturn the result of the last US election, and could even be behind bars by the time Americans go to the polls in November. But he remains by far the most likely nominee from the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are in disarray over whether to put President Joe Biden back on the ballot, at the age of 81 – making him the oldest presidential candidate in history.
Cast your mind back to the turmoil of the last Trump presidency, in the world’s biggest democracy and around the world, and it doesn’t take much thought to recognise how significant the result could be, for everyone.
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