First Minister Alex Salmond has described community spirit as a "national asset" in his Christmas message, urging people to think of those facing hardship over the festive period.

Mr Salmond also thanked the emergency services and armed forces, which he said are "especially valued".
He said: "As everyone makes their final preparations for Christmas and get ready to be with their family and friends, I want to extend my best wishes to all of you.

"As well as being a time of celebration, Christmas is a time when it is particularly important to think about those who may be facing hardship or loneliness.

"In Scotland we have a shared sense of the common weal, of our collective responsibility to each other, empathy, perhaps it is the best thing of all about Scotland.

"Our spirit of community is a national asset at all times, but it is very, very important during the festive period, and during times of economic uncertainty.

"I know that many of you will be spending time over the festive period to help people in need and I thank all of you who are helping to bring Christmas cheer where it is most needed.

"I also want to pay a particular tribute to the many people, especially in our emergency services and our armed forces, for whom Christmas is not a holiday at all. Your commitment and dedication is appreciated all year round, but is especially valued at Christmas, and that goes across the range of public services, people who work when the rest of us are on holiday.
"So whether you are working or partying, whether at home or overseas, on behalf of the Scottish Government I wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas."

Johann Lamont, who was elected leader of Scottish Labour last week, thanked those who will not be on holiday over Christmas.

She said: "These are the people in our NHS, our fire, and ambulance services and our police forces who will be doing their jobs while others relax. I also want people to recognise the extraordinary work of carers who look after loved ones every day of the year. Caring doesn't stop at Christmas. They are all unsung heroes of Scotland and we all owe them all our thanks."

She also offered her thanks to people serving in the armed forces. Ms Lamont said 2011 had been a tough year for some, with a youth unemployment "crisis", and pledged to work constructively to help get people back into work.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the year had been "extremely testing", with economic turbulence, growing unemployment and social problems.

In a more political Christmas message, he said the SNP made "wrong decisions" because of its focus on the independence referendum.

He called for "strong liberal voices" to benefit communities in the long term, adding: "We must not fail in this task. With one eye on the future we say farewell to the challenges of the last year and look forward to the opportunities that the next could bring if the right choices are made. Wherever you are, I wish all of you a very merry Christmas."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "I thought I'd leave politics aside for this pre-Christmas message, because it is important that we all take time out of our busy lives to enjoy the company of families and friends.

"I'm looking forward to cooking Christmas dinner and catching up with the in-laws and out-laws, but let's spare a thought for all those in the emergency services and in the forces who will be working hard through the festive period to keep everyone safe and healthy.

"It is also important to be good neighbours to ensure that everyone in our communities has a peaceful and prosperous Christmas."