I hope you’ve all had a very pleasant Christmas and have been able to spend some quality time with family and friends.

Leaving aside my now annual ‘disagreement’ with my husband Peter while decorating the Christmas tree, I’ve had a very peaceful few days.

As I sit down to write my last column of 2016, it’s difficult to take in what a momentous year it’s been in politics.

The Brexit vote in June has changed UK politics forever – and however much it has dominated proceedings this year, Brexit has of course not happened yet.

The Prime Minister has said she is going to trigger Article 50, the formal procedure for leaving the EU, by March next year at the latest - and after that the formal negotiations between the UK and the EU begin.

So it’s absolutely vital that Scotland’s interests are fully represented in that process.

That’s why last week the Scottish Government became the first administration in the UK to publish proposals to respond to the EU referendum result.

Now, it’ll come as no surprise that, in my opinion, the best scenario for Scotland’s future would be as an independent nation and full member of the EU.

Indeed – if we were independent, we would not currently face being dragged out of the EU against our will.

But after the EU referendum, I said that in the spirit of compromise and consensus, I’d examine all options - not just independence - and these proposals fulfill that commitment.

We want to avoid a so-called hard Brexit – one where the UK leaves the single market as well as the EU, severing our economic ties with Europe.

This is not just some abstract political debating point - this is about people’s jobs and the economy, and our ability to trade with countries across Europe.

Being in the single market ensures protection for workers' and consumer rights.

It facilitates the flow of skills that our economy depends on and allows all of us to travel, work, study and live across Europe.

It will guarantee the rights of EU citizens already living here - something that, disgracefully, the UK government still hasn’t done six months on.

And it provides a platform for co-operation on some of the major issues of our times, like climate change.

There are many countries which are not in the EU but still in the single market.

That’s why, in our proposals, we are first arguing that the UK should seek to remain in the Single Market.

If that is not the route the UK chooses, then we are also proposing ways in which Scotland could stay in the single market even if the UK leaves.

That’s certainly a more challenging option, and we don’t shy away from that - but crucially, we set out how these challenges could be overcome if the political will exists to do so.

It’s also very important to note that this option doesn’t prioritise membership of the EU single market over continued free trade across the UK.

Doing so will involve the devolution of new powers to Edinburgh.

But regardless of what happens with the single market, there are further powers being repatriated from Brussels which should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It would add insult to injury if being dragged out of the EU were to be accompanied by a Westminster power grab.

We’ve had a positive reaction to our proposals from a wide range of business organisations, trade union groups, legal experts, academics and many more – all of whom recognise the central importance of the single market to our economy and jobs.

We have shown that we are willing to make compromises – proposing a situation which is not our first choice, in order to reach consensus. I expect the UK Government to do likewise – and to fulfil their previous commitments to consider any proposals we bring forward.

I also hope that the other parties in Scotland – who say they want to protect Scotland’s place in Europe - will get behind our proposals. If they, then what alternative are they offering?

Implementing these proposals will not be straightforward – and I’ve been absolutely clear on that. But the point is, we didn’t create this situation – we’re simply looking to mitigate a Brexit vote that Scotland didn’t vote for.

As 2016 draws to a close, I’m sure that Theresa May is also sitting reflecting on what a momentous year it has been.

And if I could offer the Prime Minister one New Year’s resolution, it would be to commit to keeping the UK in the Single Market.

I hope that this time next year, we’re able to look back and say that we avoided the economic disaster of a hard Brexit.

Finally, I’d like to wish you all a very happy New Year.