A new year provides a welcome opportunity to review the highs and lows of the year just past, to spend time setting resolutions (always with the very best of intentions!) and to look ahead with a renewed perspective, hoping for bigger and better things to come.

2018 promises to be an exceptional year for Scotland, particularly for our young people.

Scotland has had a ‘Themed Years’ programme for nearly a decade. It is designed to highlight some of the best that our country has to offer - so, since 2009, we have celebrated our food and drink, our history and heritage, and architecture, culture and breath-taking scenery.

This year, in a world first, we’ll be celebrating what is undoubtedly the best thing of all about Scotland - namely our young people and the incredible contribution they make to the nation.

Planning for the year of young people began back in 2015 and has involved hundreds of organisations and thousands of young people. Young people have been at the very heart of designing all aspects of the year – its aims, the programme, events, and even the logo and website.

Scotland’s Year of Young People has been designed to be inclusive. There are over 500 Ambassadors – all young people - in every local authority across Scotland. Their task is to champion all that this year will entail within their local communities.

We also want young people to take part. Over 60 events are already planned from Orkney to Portree to Dumfries. There are plenty here in the city of Glasgow including the brand new TedXYouth, a special showcase at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, tailored events at Comic Con and new work that will feature in the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art.

The year also symbolises our desire to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. In planning the events of this year, young people identified the six key themes which matter most to them, and consequently these themes will underpin many of 2018’s activities: participation, education, health & wellbeing, equalities and discrimination, enterprise and regeneration, and culture.

I have always been determined that the Scottish Government will listen - even if we sometimes have to take decisions that not everyone agrees with - and there can be few things more important than listening to the voice of the next generation. That’s why in 2018 we want to give young people a stronger voice in policy making and a seat at the table to influence improvements to services which affect their lives, in line with these key themes.

For example, under health and wellbeing, young people highlighted mental health as a key challenge, so we will provide Young Scot and the Scottish Association for Mental Health with £95,000 over two years, to establish a Youth Commission on Child and Adolescent Mental Health. This will recruit young people with experience of mental health services to be Young Commissioners to carry out research, identify issues, and speak to experts, policy makers and service providers about solutions.

We will also include specific provisions in the Education Bill so that the views of children and young people are considered in decisions that affect them and they can participate in decisions about school. And we will also create a panel of young people to help shape and inform the development of national education policy - as school education is largely a service for under 18s, it is important that their voices are at the heart of policy making.

But if I have one over-arching aspiration for 2018, it would be to ensure that all of Scotland’s young people feel and believe that they are valued, wanted and vital to our country’s future.

Recent research suggests that young people today believe that others view them negatively simply because of their age – this has a real impact on their wellbeing and self-esteem.

Changing perceptions of young people, and changing the country’s relationship with our young people must therefore be a key aim in 2018.

We have the chance to continue to show that Scotland is a dynamic, welcoming, open and inclusive country. But perhaps the biggest opportunity and indeed, challenge, is to explore that for ourselves and vitally, to demonstrate these values to our young people.

The year sends a strong message about Scotland leading the way internationally in its approach to giving young people a voice, but to be truly successful, Scotland’s Year of Young People must also provide real opportunities for influence and a legacy of permanent change.

We can do that by celebrating young people’s achievements, holding events which put them front and centre, and ensuring that we give them platforms to succeed.

And we must put young people, their voice and views at the heart of this activity. So as we make (and if my experience is anything to go by, break…) resolutions for the year ahead, I hope there is one we can share and stick to.

Let’s engage, inspire and empower those growing up in Scotland to build the best possible future for our greatest asset of all – our young people.