2017 was a year of upheaval and tragedy in Welsh politics. IAN CRAIG looks back at the last 12 months and ahead at 2018.

IN YEARS to come 2017 will surely be remembered as one of the most eventful years in politics in Wales, as well as in the UK and across the world, in recent memory.

With the world still reeling from the election of Donald Trump as US president, as the year began it was clear a busy 12 months was ahead, with local government elections scheduled for May and the Brexit process, which seemed to be increasing in complexity every day, getting underway.

As it turned out this was just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Plaid Cymru had a difficult start to the year, when outspoken South Wales Central AM Neil McEvoy was suspended from the party in March after a hearing found he had bullied a Cardiff council employee. Although he was reinstated two weeks later, the repercussions of the controversy, which somewhat overshadowed the party's spring conference in Newport, remained. Mr McEvoy was again suspended in September after he spoke out against the party's policy to support Labour's plans to scrap the Right to Buy scheme in Wales, which were signed off later in the year.

He has since sat as an Independent AM, with no sign of the row being resolved from either side.

Two months later another AM caused waves in the Senedd when South Wales East AM Mark Reckless left Ukip, saying the party had "achieved out joint aim" of securing Brexit. This was not the first time Mr Reckless' political allegiances have caused turmoil - he was elected as Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood in Kent in 2010, but defected to Ukip in September 2014. Although he retained his seat in a by-election two months later, he lost it to the Conservatives in the 2015 General Election.

Although he joined the Assembly's Conservative group, he has not officially re-joined the party and sits as an Independent AM.

May's Local Government Election saw Labour hold onto control in Newport, Torfaen and Caerphilly. But there were changes in Blaenau Gwent, where Independent candidates snatched control from Labour, while Monmouthshire, previously run by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, saw the Conservatives win overall control.

But the election campaign was overshadowed somewhat when, just two weeks before voters went to the polls, Theresa May shocked the country by calling a snap General Election.

Widely seen as an attempt to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, it was a gamble which backfired in spectacular fashion when the Conservatives lost 13 seats and found itself nine MPs short of a majority, forcing the prime minister to sign an agreement with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. In Gwent the result was far less eventful, with all six MPs elected in 2015 - Labour's Paul Flynn, Jessica Morden, Nick Thomas-Symonds, Chris Evans and Nick Smith and Conservative David Davies - retaining their seats.

But the result wasn't without its significance for Gwent, with Theresa May promising to scrap tolls on the two Severn bridges if her party won - a promise the party has since said it will fulfill before the end of 2018.

Campaigning in Wales was also interrupted May when former first minister Rhodri Morgan died unexpectedly. Political differences were briefly put aside as politicians of all colours joined together to remember the man who steered Wales through the difficult early years of devolution.

June saw the death of a long-running dream for Gwent, as the Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale was refused for the third and final time.

The Welsh Government, which had already paid out £9.3 million in taxpayers' money to the scheme, had previously said it would not back the £425 million project unless it was at least 50 per cent funded by the private sector.

Although developers the Heads of the Valleys Development Company claimed its final application met this requirement, an assessment carried out by the Welsh Government disagreed, and economy and infrastructure secretary Ken Skates threw out the ambitious scheme.

Although the Welsh Government has pledged to invest £100 million over the next 10 years into a new automotive technology park in the area, this has proven small comfort to those in Ebbw Vale and the surrounding area who had been relying on the long-promised scheme to give the area the boost it so sorely needs.

The UK Government's Wales Bill, devolving new powers over tax, energy and transport, also passed into law this year, while the Welsh Government's health bill was also approved. The bill had previously included controversial proposals to ban e-cigarettes in public places, but was voted down on the final day of the Assembly before last year's election. The revamped version removed this element but retained the others, including new restrictions on 'intimate piercing'.

Wales' anti-poverty programme Communities First was also scrapped this year, to mixed reactions.

As summer came to an end a series of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by MPs and Parliamentary staff - mostly from the Conservatives - arose.

And Wales wasn't immune, with communities and children secretary Carl Sargeant sacked from Carwyn Jones' cabinet and suspended from the Labour Party at the start of November after allegations arose around his conduct with women.

But no one could have foreseen the tragic turn events were about to take, when Mr Sargeant was found dead at his north Wales home just four days later.

The fact that he died apparently unaware of the details of the accusations against him fuelled anger over his death, and allegations soon arose about bullying within the Welsh Government cabinet, with ex-minister Leighton Andrews making some shocking claims.

Although calls for the first minister to face an Assembly inquiry about his handling of the issue were defeated, an independent investigator has been appointed to look into the claims.

The outcome of this investigation could have massive ramifications for Carwyn Jones. Already facing calls to resign, if the report is particularly damning the first minister, already widely tipped to stand down before the 2021 Assembly Election, may find himself with no choice but to step aside.

In the meantime an inquest into Mr Sargeant's death has been opened and adjourned, with his provisional cause of death recorded as hanging, and a by-election to fill his Alyn and Deeside seat will be held in February, with Mr Sargeant's son Jack putting his name forward as candidate for Labour.

The Assembly was rocked by another piece of bad news just before Christmas, when South Wales East AM Steffan Lewis announced he had been diagnosed with "advanced stage" cancer. The Plaid AM and father-of-one, who, at 33 years old, is the youngest member in the Assembly, has vowed to fight the disease and return to the front line of Welsh politics.

In the final days of 2017 North Wales AM and former Ukip Wales leader Nathan Gill announced he was stepping aside to focus on his duties as an MEP.

Mr Gill had been largely assumed to take control of the party's new seven-strong Assembly group after 2016's election, but saw this role snatched from under him by former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton immediately after the election. And in July 2016, just two months after being elected to the Assembly, he quit the party to sit as an Independent AM.

His resignation also means the number of Ukip AMs is back to six - although seven were elected in May 2016, Mr Gill's resignation, and that of Mark Reckless earlier this year, had decreased their ranks to five. But, as Mr Gill was originally elected on Ukip's list for North Wales, he is automatically replaced by Ukip's Mandy Jones.

So what's ahead for 2018?

In theory the Welsh public won't need to go to the polls this year, but if 2017 proved anything it's that nothing can be taken for granted.

The ramifications of Carl Sargeant's death will continue to be felt, and the by-election to fill his seat is likely to attract a great deal of attention - particularly if his son ultimately takes up his father's former seat.

Meanwhile the M4 relief road could finally be given the green light in the summer. But last month it was revealed the predicted end date of the long-awaited project had been pushed back two years to 2023, while the total price tag had increased by about £100 million to £1.3 billion due to a number of new measures around Newport Docks - including a massive new bridge which will be taller than the second Severn crossing. And the people of Gwent could be forgiven for being cynical about the scheme, which was first suggested 26 years ago.

The UK Government could also make a decision around the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon scheme. If the trailblazing renewable energy project, which would be the first of its kind in the world, gets the go-ahead and proves a success similar schemes could be built off the coasts of Newport and Cardiff. But recent whispers have suggested it could be binned altogether. This would be seen by many as something of a slap in the face for Wales from Westminster, which has already scrapped the long-promised electrification of the rail line between Cardiff and Swansea.

Meanwhile the small matter of Brexit will no doubt continue to cause waves.

If 2017 proved anything it's that making political predictions is a fool's game. Watch this space.