After the increasingly high drama of the past few years 2021 is going to be a year with a bark but less of a bite – with one notable exception.
Covid – For obvious reasons need to start with Covid. Following approval of the Oxford vaccine the rollout of vaccinations happens relatively smoothly (with some disruptions much shared on Twitter). Because of the new variant January and February are not going to be pleasant but by Easter death tolls will be rapidly decreasing as the vaccination takes the roll of shielding the most vulnerable. Restrictions will be relaxed from the Spring with Easter 2021 just after the first anniversary of the first lockdown it may be just after the end of the worst of the restrictions.
The rest of the world will still see the pandemic and disruption until later in the year (for some nations much later or into 2022).
The Economy – Largely reflecting Covid. Q1 2021 will see negative growth but the second half of the year will see rapid growth. Across the year I foresee 7% growth (above most predictions) as the pent up demand sees a booming summer. This past year has been a rotten year for hospitality especially but any businesses that can survive to the summer should see a booming trade then.
On a harsh and brutal cold economic reality the culling of the weakest businesses (including very sadly some that might have otherwise survived) will see a Darwinian survival of the fittest and best managed into the post-pandemic boom. Innovations discovered over the past year plus a culling of weaker firms should set the platform for stronger growth for years to come.
Trump will continue to complain and be a sore loser but will fade out of office and into ignominy, there will be no disruption to Biden’s inauguration. 2021 will be a relatively calm political year in the USA as people
Brexit will finally be done. There may be some disruption in as businesses adjust to new customs rules but except for those directly affected that disruption will be more noticeable on Twitter than in real life. For most people who are seeing Covid disrupt their lives then Brexit will end up being much ado about nothing. Britain and Europe will quietly just get on with the bigger issues they need to face and neither side will want to pick a fight without the other.
Liz Truss will continue to be a Cabinet Minister to keep an eye on. While Sunak faces the challenges of the national finances of a pandemic-ravaged economy (even with a post-Covid boom), Truss has only a positive and optimistic role to play in the most visible act of the UK using its post-Brexit powers on the international stage: signing new trade deals. Expect talks to advance especially with Australia, New Zealand, India and most significantly of all the CPTPP.
COP21 will get a lot of publicity. A lot. More countries will pledge to be Net Zero by 2050. Biden may not go that far but will make a commitment but won’t be able to get it through the Senate.
Johnson and Starmer will see mixed polling news in the polls and the delayed local elections. Boris will be able to champion having got Brexit done and the vaccination rollout should be well embedded by May. Starmer will still be emphasising his own new leadership and criticising anything that goes wrong in hindsight. The two parties are likely to remain within margin of error of each other throughout the year – with whichever party is in the lead at any one time being championed by their own supporters but either way ignore it. Its years until the next election and none of this will matter by then.
International Sport especially will be disrupted still by Covid. The delayed Olympics will finally go ahead with much shaking of the head that athletes from around the world are gathering together during a pandemic. Hamilton will win another F1 Championship. An otherwise positive year will be marred by a much hyped build up leading to disappointment down under as Australia retain the Ashes.
The dog that does bite? Saved for last, it must be Holyrood. The Tories and Labour will be arguing until the election against a second referendum and saying to vote for them to stop it, but the SNP wins a clear and unambiguous majority in Holyrood on a clear and unambiguous commitment to a second independence referendum likely to be held in 2022. The question then becomes whether Johnson (who would want to put constitutional arguments behind) will approve the Section 30 order or not? Believe nothing about what is said before the election that is posturing to appeal for votes, what matters is what is said after it, parties often accept when they have lost an election they must respect the mandate of the voters.
Will a Section 30 order be granted? Well that is unclear. If you want the union to survive then granting the order and winning the subsequent referendum is the way to do it – denying a vote after a clear election win demanding it would stoke up a justifiable grievance in Scotland that they are being denied their say and could be enough to ensure the next inevitable referendum does vote for Yes.
Denying the order could doom the union. On the other hand granting the order and losing the referendum could doom the PM – nobody resigned from the EU after Brexit won the referendum, but Cameron thought his position was untenable if Scotland was lost. Will Boris Johnson be more concerned with saving the union – or doom it by kicking the can, temporarily saving his own Premiership and making the referendum and loss of Scotland “somebody else’s problem”?
Philip Thompson is a longstanding contributor to PB