Let me begin this week by wishing all Evening Times readers a very Happy New Year. I hope 2019 brings you health and happiness.

For me and many others, New Year’s Day last week started on a sombre note. I visited Stornoway to attend a very moving ceremony marking 100 years since the tragic loss of the Iolaire.

His Majesty’s Yacht Iolaire was the ship tasked with returning hundreds of Hebridean men who had fought in the First World War to their homes and families. Heartbreakingly, it sank within sight of the shoreline in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1919, with the loss of more than 200 lives.

The tragedy touched almost every community and every family in Lewis and Harris and it was an honour and a privilege for me to participate in the commemoration, to reflect on all those who perished and to meet the descendants of some of the survivors.

The disaster may have happened a century ago but the legacy of the Iolaire will never be forgotten. The impact of the tragedy has been significant and enduring. It disrupted not just the economic life, but also the social wellbeing of the islands for generations – for example, with the loss of so many young men, many young island women never married. And, of course, it led to many families leaving.

Some of those, of course, found their way to Glasgow. To this day, our city continues to be enriched by people of Hebridean descent. Those ties and links are still strong and evident – for example, in the enthusiasm for Gaelic education in our city, support for the National Mod and the growth and success of festivals like Celtic Connections, which gets under way this month.

There are still real challenges for the Western Isles but there are lots of reasons for optimism too. The islands are now benefiting from improved infrastructure, including digital connectivity. Local economies are boosted by innovation and the growth of local businesses and industries, and tourists from all around the world flock there every year. And research published last year suggests that young people from the Highlands and Islands not only want to stay living and working there, but more of them are committed to doing so, thanks to improved opportunities for further and higher education and employment. Increased numbers also say that they are proud to be associated with their community.

These findings should not surprise us. One of the real highlights for me of a busy 2018 was taking part in Scotland’s Year of Young People, an initiative which celebrated all that young people offer our country and society, here in Glasgow and elsewhere. The intelligence, energy and kindness of young people from every corner of our country was simply a joy to behold. Our young people provide a constant, daily reminder of the enormous potential we have as a nation and both I as First Minister and the Scottish Government more generally are absolutely committed to helping Scotland unlock that potential.

Our city’s motto is ‘People Make Glasgow’ – that sentiment can be applied to villages, towns and cities the length and breadth of Scotland. As we all know, it is always people who make places, no matter where they are. And just like the Western Isles, Glasgow has benefited from people who have settled here from all around the EU, and further afield – people who have chosen to come here, initially for work or study and then to stay and build lives here. They often bring families with them or form families while here, and they build wider relationships and contribute to our communities.

Immigration is once again in the news. Too often when this issue is discussed it can become a political argument, when above all it is about people and families and the contribution they make to our communities.

Unlike some other parts of the UK, Scotland’s demographics mean we need to attract people to come here. If there is a steep decline in people coming here from the EU our working population will actually fall. That would mean, compared with today, there would be fewer people working and therefore paying taxes to support vital public services such as our NHS.

If our working population ceases to grow, staffing the health service and social care for elderly people will also become more difficult. As a country we suffered for far too many years from population decline. Being in the EU has helped to reverse that trend, which is one of the reasons I believe it is so important to retain our place in Europe.

The reputation of this city and of Scotland as a whole of being welcoming and hospitable is one of our great assets – something for which we are known around the world and of which we can be proud.

With Brexit and the ongoing chaos at Westminster, I know 2019 will be an uncertain time for many. But amidst all that turbulence let’s resolve to keep and indeed strengthen our reputation as a welcoming and outward-looking city and nation.