The First Minister’s card has prompted criticisms that he has over-stepped the mark between festive greetings and politics, and the artist involved has admitted the title of his painting was picked by Alex Salmond.

This year’s artwork will be auctioned for charity in the New Year. But political critics believe the painting is another example of the First Minister conflating office with a political agenda and some were even drawing parallels with Stalinist and Nazi art.

The artist, Gerard Burns, whose work often features Saltires and already hangs on Alex Salmond’s office wall at Holyrood, said last night that he had been given complete freedom to choose the subject matter, which saw him paint his niece, Hannah.

However, he said the title of the work, A New Journey, had been selected by the First Minister, adding to the perception that the card taken as a whole advocated independence.

The selection and title prompted opponents to attack the whole process, with some hinting that the end result was a propaganda effort. Some even muttered that the painting “represented Stalin’s socialist realism”.

Tory Whip David McLetchie said: “Alex Salmond is trying to politicise Christmas, having already attempted to politicise the Saltire, Scotland’s national days and our children’s education. His obsession with independence is blinding him to reality.”

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Mike Rumbles said: “I’m sure people would be more impressed if the First Minister had thought about the message of Christmas rather than spend time picking out the most nationalistic Christmas card he could find.”

Dismissing the “bah humbug” attacks, a spokesperson for the First Minister said: “Messrs McLetchie and Rumbles should lighten up and get with the Christmas spirit -- they are obviously badly in need of a festive break.

“The Saltire is for all of Scotland and the artist has presented it in his own style. They also seem to have entirely forgotten that Andrew was Jesus’s first Apostle.”

The artist said: “When the First Minister asked me to produce a painting for this year’s Christmas card, as we were talking, a picture began forming in my mind of exactly what I wanted to do. The girl in the picture is my niece, Hannah McQuillan, and the canvas brings together many of the themes that people often associate with my work.

“The Saltire has become synonymous with my paintings and will be familiar to those who have seen The Rowan, which hangs in the First Minister’s office in the Scottish Parliament. The child walking with a flag, the wintry landscape and the idea of pilgrimage and journey are themes which resonate very heavily here and across many of my paintings.”

Mr Salmond said: “The wonderful picture which will feature on my Christmas card this year is an enchanting and evocative image by a talented artist and a magnificent painter. The proceeds from the sale of the canvas will be shared equally between four extremely worthwhile charities: CLIC Sargent, Glasgow the Caring City, J-A-C-K Foundation and Mary’s Meals.

“I hope the eventual owner of A New Journey will enjoy viewing this image as much as I have and I would like to wish season’s greetings to all Scots and friends of Scotland.”


Subdued hope and no Christmas cheer

Comment: Ron Ferguson

IT’S a nice card, but is it a Christmas card? The picture of the Saltire-carrying young girl is, I presume, designed to convey hope for Scotland, but it seems a rather subdued hope.

No one is dancing. That’s maybe how things look from the wintry window of Bute House right now. It reminds me of the time Jimmy Shand suddenly found himself, in his eighties, top of the DVD best-sellers list.

When a radio interviewer suggested to him “You must be ecstatic”, the squeezebox maestro responded after a silence: “I’ve nivver been ecstatic in my life.” Now that is seriously Scottish.

The Gordon Brown card is Christmassy-ish, but it looks as if his Downing Street home might be about to be repossessed. An Advent trinket for an ambitious toff, perhaps?

Christmas cards can cause problems for politicians. One of the most toe-curling cards was of Tony Blair, looking like a model from a middle-range clothes catalogue, with Cherie draped around him.

At least it was seasonal in that it showed someone adoring a messiah.

Big Eck has opted for an unsubtle political message. He should have wished people a happy Christmas, especially given Scotland’s historic faith traditions. Some politicians are terrified of causing offence to people of other faiths; my experience is that people of other traditions actually welcome such festive greetings.

Non-religious folk who would be grievously wounded by a traditional card should be invited to get a life. Now that’s an idea for a Christmas card.