I WOULD like to take this opportunity to wish all my constituents a very happy and prosperous new year and to thank everyone who has contributed to making Clackmannanshire a better place.

The nurses, doctors and support staff who are the backbone of our NHS; the emergency service personnel in the fire, police and ambulance services who work 24 hours a day to keep us safe and well; the staff in local government who deliver vital services that many people rely on; local employers who continue to invest in, and show commitment to, our local area; and everyone involved in the Third Sector who do so much to make the communities of Clackmannanshire the vibrant places they are.

As your local MSP, I am always focused on helping our communities to flourish and families to improve their lives.

I very much look forward to continuing this work in 2018 as I start the year with a surgery focused on nuisance calls and I host my sixth annual employment fair in March.

I also have meetings scheduled with the Royal Bank of Scotland to voice my objections to their plans to close their branch in Alloa and to put forward the case to retain the last remaining branch in Clackmannanshire.

This time of year encourages us to look forward and this year our young people will be leading the way as we celebrate 2018 as Scotland’s Year of Young People.

The themes for the year have been agreed by young people and there will be many opportunities to showcase the achievements and talents of all young people here in Clackmannanshire and across Scotland, ensuring that their views are heard and acted on.

I would encourage everyone to take advantage of what is happening locally and support the exciting and inspiring initiatives that are planned.

2018 also sees the culmination of five years of events to mark the centenary of World War One. Scotland began its five-year commemoration on 10 August 2014 with a Drumhead Service at Edinburgh Castle and will draw to a close this year at the National War Museum.

Over that time there have been events the length and breadth of the country, giving us the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice of our service men and women and the lasting impact that the First World War had on Scotland and I look forward to similar events over the coming months.

There is no doubt that our position in Europe remains the biggest cause of concern as we move into 2018. While the proposed agreement between the UK Government and the EU is a welcome step forward in the negotiations, the next phase of discussions on trade will be significantly tougher.

The Scottish Government must be fully involved in any talks in order to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe and it is time for all parties to put politics aside and work together to protect our place in the single market and customs union.

Short of retaining our EU membership, that is by far the least damaging option, the best compromise, and the only way to protect jobs, incomes, and workers’ rights.

As we saw with the successful amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, when opposition parties work together effectively it is possible to secure a parliamentary majority and deliver change in the national interest.