From Covid fallout to Scottish independence, what lies in store for Scottish politics in 2022?

Even her toughest critics would struggle not to feel some sympathy for Nicola Sturgeon as the country heads into 2022.

From the coronavirus pandemic to the Alex Salmond debacle, the First Minister has had a relentless couple of years.

And just when things seemed to be returning to normal, the Omicron variant burst onto the scene to ensure yet another bleak midwinter.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA

Covid's position at the top of the agenda is going nowhere fast.

This is a source of dismay to us all, but it poses a particular challenge for those who have made the baffling decision to enter frontline politics.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes will hope her Scottish Budget, published on December 9, doesn't rapidly pass its use-by date.

The tax and spending plans are due to make their way through the Scottish Parliament in January and February before being rubber-stamped by MSPs.

This process will lack the drama of previous years, because the co-operation agreement between the SNP and the Greens gives the parties a clear majority in Holyrood.

But there could still be choppy waters ahead.

The settlement offered to local authorities has already been severely criticised by Cosla, the body that represents Scotland's councils.

It warned essential services have been left in a "precarious position", with a lack of cash potentially proving "disastrous" for communities.

Opposition parties have also honed in on Ms Forbes' decision not to freeze or place a cap on council tax rises for the first time since her party came to power in 2007, with fears this has opened the door to massive tax hikes.

These issues will come to the fore ahead of Scotland's council elections on May 5.

Local elections aren't known for headline-grabbing glamour, but they are of vital importance to our everyday lives.

And with budgets tight across the board, there are big issues at stake.

Cosla also has serious concerns about another major development expected in the coming months.

Legislation to establish a new National Care Service, billed as the biggest public sector reform since the birth of the NHS, is set to be brought forward in Holyrood.

This will cover adult social care services, such as care homes, but its scope could also be extended into a variety of other areas.

After the devastating impact of the pandemic on elderly people across Scotland, many will welcome efforts to make a difference in this often neglected area.

However, the plan is not without controversy.

Cosla has dubbed it "an attack on localism" and insisted the proposals "could really be the end for anything other than central control in Scotland".

It won't be the only piece of legislation to spark debate next year.

Ministers have also committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act.

This was among a number of bills held up by the pandemic, with the Act aiming to make it easier for trans people to legally change their gender.

But the wider debate has become so toxic that many people are reluctant to get involved.

Elsewhere, the precarious position of the NHS will loom large in Holyrood.

Problems were hardly in short supply before the pandemic, but months of unprecedented pressure have taken their toll.

Likewise, the carnage caused by Covid means there will be a strong emphasis on schools and young people. Education reforms are already in the pipeline.

Stark statistics recently showed the proportion of primary school pupils achieving the expected levels in literacy and numeracy fell during the pandemic, while the gap between rich and poor children widened significantly.

This is a big issue for Ms Sturgeon, who has made closing the poverty-related attainment gap her "personal defining mission".

Measures to tackle child poverty are prominent in Ms Forbes’ spending plans.

There is also likely to be a continued focus on Scotland's horrific drugs death rate, which is by far the worst in Europe.

This is a complicated and painful issue, but there are hopes extra funding and renewed ministerial attention can help turn things around.

Figures recently indicated a very small decrease in deaths during the first nine months of 2021.

All eyes will be on the annual National Records of Scotland statistics next summer.

Other thorny issues include the ongoing climate crisis and the horrendous backlog in court cases.

The Scottish Government will also take over direct management of the ScotRail franchise, currently run by Abellio, from April.

For the real politics geeks, there’s even the review of the fiscal framework, which will examine the block grant Scotland receives from the UK Government.

Finally, while the pandemic may have thrown the world into disarray, in Scotland, at least, one thing is certain – the constitution will never be far from the headlines.

In November, Ms Sturgeon said the independence campaign will resume "in earnest" in the spring.

"In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023," she told the SNP's annual conference.

"And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence.

"We will outline the opportunities and advantages that independence will open up.”

In truth, few people in politics believe a referendum will take place any time soon, and certainly not before the end of 2023.

The First Minister has always been clear her timetable is dependent on Covid.

But fresh legislation in Holyrood and a new blueprint for independence will keep the issue firmly in the spotlight.

It all leaves Ms Sturgeon with little time for a breather. At least her future memoirs should be an interesting read.


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