AS the dust settled on a tumultuous 2016, the New Year offered a glimmer of hope for Scotland's two main unionist parties.

"Scots are overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of holding another independence referendum this year," declared the front page of The Herald on January 2, 2017.

More than six in ten Scots opposed a new vote, our exclusive poll found, while support for independence had stalled at 45.5 per cent – almost identical to the 2014 referendum result.

Loading article content

But if the figures allowed Scottish Labour and the Scottish Tories a moment to catch their breath, any sense of peace would soon be shattered.

Politics had been turned on its head following the Brexit vote – and in Scotland, as elsewhere, nothing would ever be the same again.

Few could have guessed, however, that the year would end with a former leader of Scottish Labour gulping down bull's penis smoothie on live TV.

As the ramifications of exiting the EU became increasingly clear in early 2017, battle lines were drawn between Scotland's main parties.

The Tories wasted no time in gearing up for May's local elections.

The party laid down the gauntlet by holding its annual conference in Glasgow – Labour's historic council stronghold – for the first time since devolution began.

Ruth Davidson had earlier accused Nicola Sturgeon of seeking to "weaponise Brexit" to boost support for a second independence referendum.

Addressing the party faithful at the Scottish Event Campus on the banks of the Clyde, UK leader Theresa May hammered home this message by accusing Ms Sturgeon of ignoring the priorities of ordinary Scots because of an "obsession" with independence.

Meanwhile, at the Labour conference in Perth just a few days earlier, Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale unveiled her own big idea to save the union: a revitalised, federal UK.

Unfortunately, the proposal was almost immediately dismantled from within her own ranks, with former Labour minister Brian Wilson dismissing it as "pretty ropey".

Any mention of federalism was also suspiciously absent from UK leader Jeremy Corbyn's speech.

As he addressed politicians and supporters, huge curtains were used to hide the hundreds of empty seats at Perth Conference Hall – an uncomfortable reminder of his party's ongoing woes north of the border.

Labour put Scotland's wider future at the heart of its bid to keep hold of Glasgow, where it had enjoyed uninterrupted local power for almost four decades.

But in April, one leading pollster predicted the party was on course for a "cataclysmic" defeat in the council elections.

The stakes were heightened when Theresa May announced a snap General Election on June 8.

Ms Dugdale was forced to rewrite her script as she launched her local election campaign in Edinburgh, admitting the polls were "undoubtedly very challenging" for her party.

A bullish Ruth Davidson, on the other hand, insisted the Scottish Tories were "ready, organised and optimistic".

There was everything to play for, and political pundits across the land hailed Mrs May's gamble as a smart move given her huge lead in the polls. What could possibly go wrong?

On May 4, the Scottish Tories recorded their strongest council result in four decades, more than doubling their seats and making gains in previously unthinkable areas such as Ferguslie Park in Paisley and Cumnock in East Ayrshire.

The party came second across the country, pushing Labour into third place and handing extra ammunition to Ms Davidson as she gathered the troops for the following month's General Election.

And there was more misery for Labour as the SNP ended its near 40-year reign in Glasgow – a symbolic stronghold and Scotland's largest local authority.

Labour dropped 132 councillors overall, losing its grip on all four local authorities it previously ruled outright.

It didn't bode well for June's snap poll. Amid predictions that Labour could face near wipe-out, Ms Dugdale insisted she would stay on as leader no matter the result.

"I've signed up to do a job for five years, that's what I'm going to do," she told Radio Scotland's Kaye Adams programme.

Launching Scottish Labour's election manifesto in Edinburgh in late May, Ms Dugdale emphasised the party's opposition to a second independence referendum – warning Scotland would face a £15 billion deficit after a Yes vote.

But this hardline stance was somewhat undermined when Nicola Sturgeon apparently revealed the contents of a private phone conversation with Ms Dugdale.

During a live TV debate just days before polls closed, the First Minister said the Scottish Labour leader had told her last June that she was open to a second referendum because of Brexit. Ms Dugdale later dismissed the claim as a "categoric lie".

As the votes were counted on June 8 and into the following morning, it quickly became apparent that Mrs May's cunning election gamble had dramatically backfired.

The Tories failed to secure a majority across the UK – but gained 12 new Scottish MPs, bringing their total north of the border to 13.

Scottish Labour secured an unexpected seven seats, while the SNP lost 21, with the biggest casualties including former First Minister Alex Salmond and deputy leader Angus Robertson, who both lost out to the Tories.

Just weeks earlier, Mr Salmond had accused the Tories of making "presumptuous announcements" and "vainglorious boasts" by suggesting they could defeat him at the General Election.

Ms Davidson immediately made clear her intention to throw her weight around in Westminster, using her new MPs to push for a softer Brexit.

Tiresome panda jokes now consigned to the dustbin of history, pundits renewed speculation that Ms Davidson was eyeing up Westminster's top job.

Labour might have shown signs of a comeback north of the border, but the party was thrown into fresh disarray just a few months later with the shock resignation of Kezia Dugdale.

The Lothian MSP, who had been in the top job just two years, said the Scottish party needed a new leader with "energy, drive and a new mandate".

Her decision to throw in the towel came precisely 15 weeks after she told Radio Scotland she would stay in place until at least the next Holyrood election in 2021.

It also opened the door to a bitter leadership campaign that would drag on for another two and a half months, almost tearing the party apart in the process.

Millionaire Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar was initially declared the frontrunner. Seen as the centrist candidate, he was widely considered a smooth operator and had served as deputy leader between 2011 and 2014.

But his bid for the top spot was quickly buried under a barrage of criticism over his decision to send his children to private school and the business practices of his family firm.

Not only did the latter fail to recognise trade unions – it didn't pay all employees the real living wage promoted by Labour.

The endless controversy left an open goal for his rival Richard Leonard, who pushed a left-wing vision friendly to UK leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Following weeks of insults and infighting, and just days after interim leader Alex Rowley was forced to step aside after being caught up in a harassment scandal, Mr Leonard was elected leader.

But the announcement was almost completely eclipsed by one of the biggest political twists of the year – Kezia Dugdale's decision to join the contestants on ITV reality show I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

The former Scottish Labour leader insisted she wanted to bring her party's message to the masses, but was immediately slated by colleagues.

New leader Richard Leonard dryly suggested crawling through fish guts and guzzling unpalatable smoothies was not "a good way of getting across the message of socialism on television".

And the situation only descended into further farce on Ms Dugdale's return to Scotland in December.

She escaped suspension for her "unauthorised" jungle break, but was promptly gagged by party bosses and prevented from talking to the media.

In chaotic scenes better suited to satirical TV show The Thick of It, both she and Mr Leonard were chased through Holyrood by a scrum of journalists demanding answers. They didn't get any.

While Labour fought amongst itself, the 13 Scottish Tories at Westminster continued to make a pointed show of their new-found strength.

On November 16, Ms Davidson was named The Herald Scottish Politician of the Year for the second consecutive time – a nod to her vital role in the Tory revival.

And later that same month her MPs were ostentatiously name-dropped by Chancellor Philip Hammond as he announced his first Autumn Budget.

In a move calculated to infuriate the SNP, he claimed it was pressure exerted by the Scottish Tories that secured extra cash for Scotland.

Ms Davidson would later further fuel speculation she could make the switch from Holyrood to Westminster and run as an MP, suggesting such "conversations" could take place after the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021.

Ruth Davidson for PM? Stranger things have happened. Just ask Kezia Dugdale.