SO goodbye 2023 and good riddance. But I doubt if 2024 will be any better. In fact, I suspect it’s going to be a lot worse. Let’s take a look into the coming year.

Start with the economy. Surprisingly the world economy did better than the experts expected in 2023, helped by the strength of the US economy. Predictions of a full-scale global meltdown proved wide of the mark despite high interest rates. It’s traditional for analysts to predict the worst – nobody remembers if you predict Armageddon, and it fails to arrive. But fail to spot an unexpected calamity (viz. the 2008 bank crash) and you get pilloried.

Surprisingly, this festive season the economic pundits are throwing caution to the wind and predicting a better 2024. With big elections in America and the UK, politicians are pushing central banks to cut interest rates to boost growth and make the electorate feel good. Inflation in most economies has moderated a bit so the financial markets are also calling for lower rates. That will boost stock prices. So is 2024 going to be a bonanza year?

The problem lies in timing. If rates get cut too quickly there is a risk inflation could surge again. But if rates are put on hold – as per the Bank of England – then the economy stalls again. The latest (downward) revisions of the UK economic data suggest the latter scenario. So, 2024 is a mess waiting to happen if the central bankers start panicking under political pressure. And our own chief central banker, Andrew Bailey, is not noted for his independence of mind.

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Let me stick my neck out: 2024 should start well. There is a definite wave of optimism in the financial markets. This has three triggers: the very fact that the global economy didn’t go kaboom in 2023; investor excitement over the opportunities afforded by artificial intelligence (AI); and a massive surge in government borrowing everywhere. This latter surge has had investors rushing to buy government securities as if they were Christmas presents. But never was financial confidence built on such shifting sands.

At some point, investors will panic at the volume of surging government debt. AI will bring massive economic dislocation. Political outcomes from this year’s elections could be unsettling to say the least. Which makes the end of 2024 an economic danger zone.

In the UK we will see a General Election in the spring or late autumn, with Labour still maintaining its 20-point lead over the hapless, divided Tories. If Tory infighting gets too intense, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could hold the election in May – but it is difficult to see Starmer and Co losing whenever the poll is held. Labour will recover much of its lost red belt.

However, don’t expect Starmer to behave like a Tony Blair clone. We live in more interventionist times. Neoliberalism is dead and populism rules – even for Sir Keir Starmer. Except that he’s not good at it. Starmer will introduce muddled reforms in the labour market that will please neither unions nor employers. There will be extra public investment – too little to boost ailing UK productivity but too much for the markets and Tory press to stomach. The Starmer political honeymoon will be over almost before it has begun.

Meanwhile populism – rightist, short-termist, and playing the blame game constantly – will eventually destroy the old, traditional Tory party.

The form of this metamorphosis remains unclear. Farage could rejoin and seize the leadership. The party could split definitively between liberals and social conservatives. There could be defections to the Reform Party. Or a combination of all of these.

Regardless, the 2024 General Election will be a historical watershed in British politics.

THE same might be said of the US presidential election in November. Donald Trump will be the Republican-populist nominee regardless of his legal battles. Shorn of divine intervention or a loose board on a podium, Joe Biden will be the Democrat candidate. The latest poll has Trump beating Biden by four points. Even persuading Taylor Swift to back Biden – the latest Democrat wheeze – is unlikely to change the odds. Actually, I can’t think of anything more calculated to draw attention to Biden’s age than him dancing on a stage with Swift.

A second Trump presidency will be world-changing. Trump will impose a general tariff on imports, sparking a new global trade war. He will abandon net zero plans and pump more oil and gas. He will cut US military and financial aid to Ukraine. He will back Israel to the hilt. Unlike his first, chaotic term, when he entered the White House unprepared, Trump now has an army of advisors and former staffers to run his administration the way he wants. From day one, the world will be a more dangerous place. But so will America. The odds of a breakup of the United States – if not a second Civil War – will increase.

A lot could happen even before November. America is now in a slow-motion war with Iran, across the Middle East all the way to India. If the Red Sea, the Gulf and the Indian Ocean become restricted zones for shipping as a result of a US-Iran drone war, the global economy inflation will return.

Worse, any miscalculation on either side could turn the present Israel-Hamas confrontation into a region-wide conflict. Throw the volatile Trump into this mix and we are – in 2024 – facing the most fragile international situation since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

And what of Scotland, in this desperately uncertain year to come? The crusade to win back our sovereignty – and our ability to chart our own national course in difficult times – has well and truly stalled.

The recent Scottish Budget was lacklustre and technocratic rather than a rallying point for resistance to the austerity being imposed from Westminster. The SNP face significant losses in the coming election. Next year looks to be the lowest ebb of the organised national movement in this century.

That said, popular support for independence has not declined and remains at around half the electorate. Scotland is still restive toward the UK state and its Tory-Labour rulers. Whatever we think of the EU as a political institution, popular Scottish support for Europe suggests a mindset and an internationalism that is in stark contradiction to Little Englander populism down south.

And even if more Scottish voters switch to Labour at the General Election, there will still be a strong social democratic majority north of the Border in 2024.

What we need for 2024 is a grassroots initiative to revive thinking about how we progress the indy movement. True, that is difficult – for partisan reasons – before the General Election. But afterwards, we need a platform to bring the movement together. Jaw-jaw not war-war. The big turnout to the recent Breakup of Britain? conference in Edinburgh in memory of Tom Nairn showed there is an appetite for fraternal discussion inside the movement.

I’m glad 2023 is behind us. It was a year of obscene violence and of economic misery. But history is not something that happens to us; it is something we have the power to make. Let’s make 2014 a better year.