Sturgeon vows to 'protect Scotland's place at heart of Europe'
The Scottish Government will work "to protect Scotland's place at the heart of Europe" in 2019, Nicola Sturgeon has said in a New Year message.
Scotland's first minister said she believed the reputation for being a hospitable country "has never been more important", and said EU nationals who had made Scotland their home would always be welcome.
Although Brexit is likely to dominate politics in 2019, Sturgeon said her government would work to make Scotland "a greener, fairer and more prosperous country".
In a recorded message, the first minister said: "One of the things we should be proud of, at Hogmanay, is the number of people from around the world who come to Scotland to see in the New Year.
"They come in part because of Scotland's reputation for offering a warm welcome for all. That's a reputation we should cherish. And it's one which will endure, regardless of the changes we may see in 2019.
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"In the year ahead, the Scottish Government will continue to do everything we can to protect Scotland's place at the heart of Europe. However, whatever the outcome of Brexit, Scotland will always offer a warm welcome to the world.
"In fact, our reputation for being an open, warm-hearted, hospitable country has never been more important.
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"I want to make that especially clear to the hundreds of thousands of nationals from other European Union countries, who have done us the honour of choosing Scotland as their home.
"I know that this is a deeply uncertain time for you. But I also want you to know that your contribution to our national life - to our economy, communities and society - is hugely valued. You will always be welcome here."
Sturgeon added: "Of course, 2019 will not simply be about Brexit. We will also keep on with the day to day business of government.
"We will redouble our efforts to support and invest in our key public services - such as the NHS and our education system.
"We will continue our expansion of childcare, and press ahead with our new Scottish system of social security - making life fairer and helping those most in need. And we will take action to support business and the economy, while also showing global leadership in tackling climate change - undoubtedly the greatest challenge currently facing the world.
"Through all of this, we will help to make Scotland a greener, fairer and more prosperous country. We will create a better society for everyone who lives here."
Acting Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said there was cause for optimism about the future.
He said: "There is no getting away from the fact that, as we look ahead at 2019 and our departure from the EU, the path we're about to take is hard to make out.
"And it's only a statement of the obvious to say that there are many views across the country about how best to travel.
"For many of those people who, in 2016, supported a new future for Britain outside the European Union, this is an exciting and liberating moment and offers the promise of something better.
"But for those who wanted to stay, many are understandably uncertain and nervous, angry even. That is the nature of changing times.
"The next few weeks will be a momentous moment in our country's history - and none of us can predict exactly how it is going to turn out. But as we go through this period, I believe that we all have good cause to do so with a well-grounded optimism in our future."
Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said: "We can safeguard our future in Europe, and the next few months will be critical if that hope is to become a reality.
"The Greens are ready to offer our positive vision of a sustainable future and a fairer, more equal society, an internationalist Scotland ready to take its place on the world stage and to build peace and friendship instead of fences and walls."
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: "The power we have is not being used to make people's lives better.
"So we must renew that founding spirit. That ambition that power can mean real change.
"That is what Scottish Labour stands for. And what we will fight for in 2019."