POLITICS

Nicola Sturgeon Elected Unopposed As SNP Leader

15/10/2014 09:53 BST | Updated 15/10/2014 10:59 BST
Danny Lawson/PA Wire
File photo dated 24/09/14 of Nicola Sturgeon, who is expected to be confirmed as Scottish First Minister-in-waiting today as the deadline for nominations for the SNP leadership approaches.

Nicola Sturgeon has been elected unopposed as the Scottish National Party's new leader and the country's first minister-in-waiting.

Her leadership will not be officially confirmed until the SNP conference next month, and her election as first minister must be approved by the Scottish Parliament with the assent of the Queen.

She will replace Alex Salmond, who announced his intention to quit as leader following the defeat for the pro-independence camp in last month's Scottish referendum.

The SNP plan a series of events across Scotland to mark Sturgeon becoming leader. The party says its membership has swelled from 25,000 at the time of the September referendum to around 80,000 today - making it the third biggest party in the UK.

According to the party the largest rally in the series will be a capacity crowd of 12,000 at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, making it the largest indoor political gathering held in Scotland - or indeed anywhere in the UK - in recent times.

SNP business convener Derek Mackay said: "I am delighted that Nicola Sturgeon will succeed Alex Salmond as leader of the SNP.

"She will be a fantastic new leader of both the party and our country. She will build on the substantial legacy and extraordinary achievements of Alex Salmond as the longest-serving first minister, and make her own mark as she leads Scotland forward."

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Sturgeon has pledged to engage constructively with the Smith Commission on Scottish devolution, but said her ambition for independence remains undiminished following the rejection by 55% of voters on September 18

Sturgeon, currently the Deputy First Minister, was the only candidate for the top job, but there are three people vying to replace her as the party's deputy leader.

They are Keith Brown, the Holyrood Transport and Veterans Minister; Angela Constance, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women's Employment; and Stewart Hosie, deputy leader of the party's group in Westminster and its Treasury spokesman in the Commons.

Brown claims the support of more than half of Holyrood's SNP MSPs, including a clutch of Government ministers, as well as a number of councillors and senior grassroots organisers.

But Constance has made a direct appeal to the tens of thousands of new members who joined the SNP in the wake of the referendum, swelling its ranks from around 25,000 to more than 80,000.

Many of these independence die-hards will have attained voting rights before the cut-off point of September 23, and will have equal representation under the SNP's one-member-one-vote system.

Hosie aims to secure the maximum number of SNP MPs at the next general election, which he says should not be seen as a re-run of the referendum but an opportunity to hold the Westminster's "feet to the fire" over unionist devolution pledges.

The result of the deputy leadership election will be declared at the SNP conference on November 14, when the new leader and her deputy will assume their posts.

Mackay said he was "delighted that there is a choice of three top-quality candidates" for the deputy leadership.

He said: "The party is in great heart and relishing the opportunities ahead. We enjoy a lead in voting intentions for both the next Westminster and Holyrood elections, with a record number of members bringing new energy, commitment and enthusiasm to our ranks.

"Where there was deep disappointment at not winning the referendum, there is now a real focus on ensuring that Westminster delivers on its Vow to deliver extensive new powers for Scotland, so that we can build a fairer and more prosperous country.

"We can look forward with great optimism to our new leadership team taking forward this work in the best interests of Scotland."