FIRST minister Nicola Sturgeon has paid tribute to lottery winner Colin Weir as a “true friend” of the independence movement after he died at the age of 71.

Weir and then-wife Chris, from Largs in North Ayrshire, scooped one of the biggest ever Euromillions jackpots of £161 million in the summer of 2011.

The couple used some of the money to set up a charitable trust, invested in Partick Thistle football club and gave millions of pounds to the SNP and Scottish independence campaign.

It was announced late on Friday that Weir had died after a short illness.

A minute’s applause was held at the Partick Thistle game yesterday in tribute to the “lifelong Jags fan” and the team’s players also wore black armbands during their match against Greenock Morton.

Sturgeon said: “I am incredibly sad to hear of Colin’s passing.

“Colin’s determination and generosity in the cause of Scottish independence cannot be overstated and was hugely appreciated.

“The SNP and the independence movement has lost a true friend today and we will miss him dearly.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with Colin’s family and friends, whose privacy I hope will be respected during this difficult time.”

SNP MSP Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s Constitutional Relations Secretary, also tweeted about the news.

He wrote: “Sad to see this – remember him very kindly, both of us contesting seats in 1987, working on PPBs [party political broadcasts] for @theSNP when I was VC Publicity & his great generosity after his win.”

Education Secretary John Swinney tweeted: “Very sorry to read this news. Colin was a good, humble and devoted supporter of Scotland’s cause.”

The former TV cameraman and his then-wife, a former psychiatric nurse, made the Sunday Times Rich List with their win eight years ago.

However in April this year, it emerged the pair would divorce after 38 years of marriage.

Together they have two grown-up children.

The Weirs, who described themselves as “lifelong supporters of independence”, donated £3.5m to the Yes Scotland campaign ahead of the 2014 referendum.

At the time the couple said Scots would make their decision based on being “well-informed”, adding: “That’s why we made the donations we did, to ensure there was the chance of an informed debate.”

They continued donating to the SNP afterwards, totalling £4.5m between 2011 and 2017.

The Weirs were also known for using their fortune to fund a number of good causes. In 2012, they stepped in to fund a new prosthetic limb for teenager Kieran Maxwell, who lost a leg a to cancer.

They donated money to help refurbish sports facilities for the National Sports Training Centre Inverclyde and the Largs Thistle Community Club, as well as helping keep the Waverley paddle steamer afloat in 2011 after it faced an uncertain future.

The Weir Charitable Trust was set up to support Scottish-based community groups and charities, with a focus on projects involving sport, recreational facilities, animal welfare, health and culture.

Some of the charities helped by the trust tweeted tributes yesterday.

Broadway Prestwick, a charity working to restore an Art Deco cinema, stated: “We are saddened to hear of the passing of Colin Weir. As a small local charity trying to make a big difference in our community, we received funding from The Weir Charitable Trust.

“We will forever be grateful to Colin and Chris, our thoughts and sympathies are with the family.”

The HALO Urban Regeneration Company said it was “deeply saddened” by the passing of Weir.

It said: “His valuable support and business advice has been unmeasurable in the delivering of the HALO Kilmarnock project, especially during autumn of this year.”

The couple also invested in Partick Thistle Football Club which led to the youth set-up being rebranded the Thistle Weir Youth Academy and a section of their Firhill Stadium being named the Colin Weir Stand.

Just weeks ago Weir secured a majority shareholding at the club and promised to give the 55% shareholding directly to a fans group by March 2020.

The club tweeted: “On behalf of everyone at Partick Thistle, our love, thoughts and prayers are with the family and close friends of Colin at this most difficult time.”

The £161m prize collected by the Weirs was the UK’s biggest win until October this year, when an anonymous ticket holder claimed a £170m jackpot.

Speaking on the first anniversary of the win, Weir said they would never forget their incredible luck.

He added: “A year on, the biggest change in our life is that we can now support causes close to our hearts in a more meaningful way.

“It is a privilege to be in a position to see a situation where help is needed and be able to do something about it.”

Announcing his death on Friday a spokeswoman for his personal lawyers said he had passed after a short illness.

She added: “We would ask for privacy for his family and friends at this distressing time.

“No further comment will be made other than to offer sincere thanks to the staff of University Hospital Ayr for their care and compassion.”