Farewell then, 2023: a year in which we were horrified by the scale and human cost of the war between Israel and Hamas, were plunged into despair by Russia’s ceaseless assault on Ukraine, and witnessed, yet again, the relentless impact of climate change.

The alt right or far right continued its sweep across the Continent. Refugees carried on trying to reach Britain, too many of them dying in the process. In a Britain run by a Conservative government that has plainly lost its way, there was precious little evidence that the NHS and other public services are in rude health. The cost-of-living crisis made life grim for millions of families. Growth, meanwhile, remained anaemic.

In Scotland, we saw the SNP, so sure-footed for so long, stumble and lose much of its electoral appeal. For Scottish Labour, the next general election cannot come quickly enough.

Yousaf confident of SNP general election win in Scotland

In America, despite his serious legal travails, Donald J Trump is bullishly confident of winning the Republican presidential nomination. He hovered over his rival candidates, scorning them even as he declined to join their debates.

Bright spots in 2023? There were some. Whisper it to those of an anti-monarchical bent, but the coronation of King Charles was one. But as you surveyed the national and, more to the point, the international horizon, it was difficult to find genuinely optimistic moments.

What does 2024 hold, so far as we can tell? The state of the world’s democracy will come under the spotlight as 70 elections are held over the course of the year in countries that between them are home to an estimated 4.2 billion people – more than half the global population, in other words.

Not every election will pass the 'fair and free' test, of course, and in some, authoritarian leaders will be further embedded in power for years. President Putin could potentially remain in office until at least 2030 as a result of Russia’s presidential elections in March.

DAVID PRATT: Trump card? Colorado's ban on former President may seriously backfire

Lots of elections are already grabbing attention: what if anything will the outcome of Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections, for example, mean for relations with Beijing at a time of simmering tensions in the South China Sea?

Many international observers are apprehensive about the impact on liberal democracy of so many elections. One respected expert has gone so far as to predict that 2024 may yet see one of the starkest erosions of liberal democracy since the end of the Cold War.

Will June’s elections to the European Parliament see voters turning in greater numbers to right-wing populists playing the migration card for all it is worth? The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has already warned that the elections could be as important as the US presidential election, as European voters’ fear of the unknown might drive them into populist parties of the right.

DAVID PRATT: Relief in Kyiv as EU brings Ukraine in from the cold amid bleak winter

In America, Donald Trump sees no reason to believe that he cannot defeat Joe Biden, or whoever the Democrats’ candidate is, in November. Great pains have already been made to lay the groundwork for a second Trump presidency. What will it all mean? It seems reasonable to expect that Trump will ramp up the isolationist impulses we glimpsed in his first term. There will be risks for the Western alliance, for the battle against climate change, for military support for Ukraine.

The Economist magazine’s prediction that the consequences of a Trump victory would be catastrophic for democracy and the world might seem over-heated, but nothing we have seen so far would seem to contradict it.

If we had a wish-list for the next year, it would be for serious international efforts being made to halt the war in Gaza, where far too many people have already lost their lives.

Cameron signals shift in UK's position on Gaza ceasefire

The West should shrug off its war fatigue and refocus on Ukraine, whose spring counter-offensive against Russian forces failed to live up to expectations. The recent decision by EU leaders to officially start accession talks with Ukraine, despite the determined opposition of Hungary’s Viktor Orban, was, however, a step in the right direction.

Recession danger for UK economy as GDP falls in Q3, October

Grant Shapps, Britain’s defence secretary, has rightly warned that the world is sleepwalking into an autocratic era and that the West cannot afford a Russian victory. By no stretch of the imagination would a resurgent Russia under Putin mean good news for an already divided West.

No date has yet been set for a general election in Britain, but the Conservatives will have been in power for 14 long years. They look exhausted, despite Rishi Sunak’s best efforts. It is time for a change. Sir Keir Starmer has done much to make Labour more electable than it was under his predecessor. Expect his party to make much of the cost-of-living crisis.

Editor's pick: A thank you to our readers as we head into 2024

In Scotland, Humza Yousaf has done his best to steer Scotland through the post-Sturgeon era, but the SNP government has lately stumbled from one problem to another, often of its own making – a sign, perhaps, that it has been in power for too long.

2023 IN REVIEW: Scottish Greens: A year of coalition friction and binned policies

In the 12 months ahead we would like to see it making more of a concerted effort to increase growth. It might be that some of the fears expressed here will not come to pass, or at least be less bleak than painted. But it is hard to be an optimist these days when you consider the outlook for liberal democracy and global stability amidst so much sheer unpredictability, amidst so many trouble-spots, whether emerging or long-established. Much will hinge on developments throughout 2024.