WE should always hope for the best so let’s hope that the start of 2018 will be better than the start of 2017. Twelve months ago, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States and so far he has lived down to every bit of his lack of promise. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was also triggered at the start of 2017 despite all the signs pointing to Brexit being an economic and political calamity. There were a few encouraging glimmers of hope last year of course, but it is fair to say that the legacy of 2017 is a pretty depressing one. How can we make the next one better?

On Brexit, the hope must be that the facts and the fantasy start to converge in 2018 and the UK Government is forced to deal with the actual consequences of leaving the EU rather than the unrealities pedalled by the worst of the Brexiteers. In her new year message, the Prime Minister said there had been good progress in the Brexit negotiations in 2017 and that most people want the Government to get on and deliver a good Brexit. “And that’s exactly what we are doing,” she said.

The problem, as usual with the Government’s narrative on Brexit, is the pesky facts. The effects of the Leave vote in the referendum have already been seen in the growing cost of living in 2017 and they will be seen again this year in woeful economic stagnation. Even the Office for Budget Responsibility, which for years kept on saying that the economy would pick up again, has finally accepted the truth and is predicting that the economy will grow by just 1.5 per cent.

A hard Brexit would exacerbate the situation, but the hopeful signs for 2018 are that the UK’s departure from the UK will be much softer than the hardliners would have it. The inherent weakness of Theresa May means that she has slowly been backed into a corner where a soft Brexit is the only realistic option. A hard Brexit for the whole of the UK is out of the question because of the Northern Ireland border and a hard Brexit for all of the UK except Northern Ireland is out of the question because of the DUP. Which leaves the last best hope we have to salvage something from the referendum vote: a Brexit that allows the UK to maintain as close a relationship with the EU as possible. But the conundrum remains: how do you leave a club and keep most of its benefits? So far, no one has provided a convincing answer to that one.

The consequences of Brexit can be seen elsewhere but the danger is that it is used as an excuse where decisive political action is required. On the NHS, for example, the record of the Scottish Government is still deeply troubling – will 2018 be the year when they finally accept that the health service in Scotland is not keeping pace with demand? A clear and detailed plan for change is needed for the NHS, together with honesty about how much it will cost to train and employ the necessary extra staff.

Where the Scottish Government has taken some decisive action, 2018 is the year they will start to be judged on it. From April, hundreds of thousands of Scots will pay more tax than people on the same salaries in England and there is every danger that the political gamble will backfire badly. For it to pay off for them, the Scottish Government will have to demonstrate – and quickly – that taking more tax from people on middle incomes can make a visible difference to public services. We will all be watching to see if it happens.

We will also be watching for signs of hope and progress in the year to come. It would be easy to let the economic forecasts for the UK and Donald Trump’s Twitter account to get us down, but there were little flashes of hope too in 2017 - the emergence of the #metoo movement against sexual harassment and the re-emergence of democratic hope in Zimbabwe being among the brightest. Let’s start the year by focusing on those. And let’s hope that 2018 won’t let us down.