FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has paid tribute to Scots serving in the armed forces in his Christmas message, which looks ahead to next year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
He paid tribute to those who worked to rescue people in the Clutha bar helicopter crash in Glasgow, which killed ten people.
He said: “I’d like to send my very best wishes to all of you for this Christmas period.
“I’m at the Erskine Home in Bishopton, one of five of their homes across Scotland, which provide superb care for more than 1,000 ex-servicemen and women, people who have done their bit for all of us, and who now need a bit of support.
“The first of these Erskine Homes was founded in 1916, for people who had lost their limbs during the Great War. Since then, Erskine have helped tens of thousands of veterans.
“Each of the purple stars on this Christmas tree of honour includes a handwritten message for an absent loved one. It’s a lovely way of remembering people who have been lost in conflict, and of showing support for those still serving overseas.
“Next year, when we mark the centenary of the start of the Great War, we will reflect on the sacrifices made by a previous generation of servicemen and women, and we’ll also think about those who are currently in the armed forces.
“For many of them, Christmas and New Year isn’t a holiday at all. We’re grateful for their valour and dedication at all times of the year, but we’re especially grateful over this festive period.
“I also want to pay a particular tribute to our emergency services. Less than a month ago, we were reminded once again of their professionalism and their courage as they worked to rescue and treat those affected by the Clutha Vaults helicopter tragedy.
“That tragedy was and is a cause of great grief and sorrow. However, the response of our emergency services should be a source of pride. So should the way in which so many ordinary people came together to offer support: the individuals who rushed to help at the scene; the businesses which offered assistance; the queues of people who lined up to give blood.
“They demonstrated the very best of Glasgow and of Scotland through their empathy, their solidarity and their compassion.
“Those values are important at all times, but they’re especially important at Christmas. I know that many of you will spend some time over the next few weeks giving comfort, companionship and support to those who need it, whether it’s by helping a charity, or simply having a cup of tea and a chat with a neighbour who is on their own.”
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont also remembered the Clutha victims and their families in her Christmas message, and paid tribute to the late South African president Nelson Mandela.
She said: “Sadly, not everyone will share that feeling the way we would like. Not every family will get together, whether through tragedy, like the relatives of the Clutha victims, or through service, like those in the armed forces protecting us overseas.
“Others will have to try to make the most of things, like the families relying on food banks to put Christmas dinner on the table, or those who have been forced into unmanageable debt through credit cards or payday loans, so they can afford presents.
“No-one could blame those facing up to these challenges for lacking in the good spirits most of us will enjoy.”
She went on: “The celebrations in South Africa for the life of Nelson Mandela left many of us with a warm glow this winter. His ability to hold on to the belief that things could get better for him, his family and his neighbours got him through many years of adversity.
“He reminds us that change does not come easily and peace can sometimes seem a remote prospect. But he fought for both change and for peace and made the world a better place.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie hailed the progress his party made over the past year in his Christmas message. He said the Lib Dems made “significant” progress but this could be undermined if Scots voted for independence in 2014.
Mr Rennie said: “The progress in the last year has been significant. We’re delivering our £700 tax cut for those on low and middle incomes.
“Pensions are rising, thanks to the Liberal Democrat triple lock that guarantees decent increases every year. There’s higher employment with over a million new jobs in the private sector.”