POLITICS

Alex Salmond Predicts New SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon Will Secure Scotland's UK Exit

14/11/2014 20:28 GMT | Updated 14/11/2014 20:59 GMT

Alex Salmond has tipped Nicola Sturgeon, his successor as the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader to "make history" and secure the country's exit from the UK. Mr Salmond made the prediction as he stepped down from the role of SNP leader, with Ms Sturgeon now taking over the job.

After more than seven years at the helm of the nationalist administration in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond will formally stand down as First Minister next week, when Ms Sturgeon will become the first woman to hold the post. Within hours of the referendum result in September, Mr Salmond had announced that he would be resigning as both SNP leader and First Minister.

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Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is congratulated by new SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon following his speech at the annual party conference at Perth Concert Hall, Scotland

But he told the SNP annual conference in Perth that Scotland ''changed utterly'' as a result of that vote. He hailed Ms Sturgeon as a ''woman of extraordinary talent'' as he told his successor: ''Nicola, your contribution to where this party now stands has already been immense. Your future contribution - I have no doubt - will be to make history.''

He told the conference the ''dream'' of independence was ''alive and well and will succeed''. In the referendum - in which the Yes campaign secured 45% of the vote - Scotland had risen to ''the challenge of change," Mr Salmond said. His speech, which was given a rapturous reception by activists in the hall, concluded: ''That is the change which will carry us forward - forward to independence.''

Ms Sturgeon took over as SNP leader with a promise to lead Scotland to "better times ahead". But she conceded Mr Salmond would be a hard act to follow, as she said Mr Salmond had been "an outstanding leader of our party" and "an outstanding First Minister for Scotland".

Ms Sturgeon, who has been SNP depute leader for 10 years and Deputy First Minister for seven years, was the only candidate in the running to take on the post. She told how as was "overwhelmed by a feeling of privilege and responsibility" but also said she had a "sense of real excitement about the opportunities to come".

She said: "This is a good time for our party and this is a good time for our country. I'm ready to lead this party and this country to even better times ahead." She stated: "To become the leader of the party I joined as a teenager is the biggest privilege of my life.

"It is an emotional moment, and one that I cherish and one that I relish." She pledged under her leadership the SNP would "continue each and every day to govern this country to the best of our ability" and would "keep making the case for Scotland being an independent country".

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SNP new leader Nicola Sturgeon (front right) with her fellow Cabinet Secretaries as First Minister Alex Salmond makes his speech at the annual party conference

But in the meantime she said her party would also seek to hold Westminster leaders to account for the vow they made of substantial new powers for Holyrood in the run up to the referendum. Ms Sturgeon set the party the challenge of winning the general election next year north of the border, saying: "When the SNP is strong, Scotland is strong. Our voice will be heard and our interests will be protected.

"Make no mistake - I want the Westminster parties to hear this loudly and clearly - with a strong team of SNP MPs at Westminster there will be no hiding place. That vow, that promise for more powers will be delivered, it will be delivered in full."

In his conference address Mr Salmond warned that both both the Conservatives and Labour would try to renege on the promise of further devolution that was made by Westminster leaders in the run up to the indepedence vote. But he stressed: ''Scotland expects the vow to be redeemed''.

Mr Salmond warned the leaders of the UK parties: ''If the Westminster gang reneges on that promise made in the campaign, they will discover that hell hath no fury like this nation scorned.'' While Ms Sturgeon has become the new SNP leader, party MP Stewart Hosie has been voted in as the new depute leader of the party.

Mr Hosie, who has been the nationalist Treasury spokesman at Westminster, stood against Keith Brown, the transport and veterans minister at Holyrood, and Angela Constance, who is Secretary for Training, Youth and Women's Employment in the Scottish Government for the post.

He called activists to keep the same ''campaigning energy'' that they had in the referendum in the run-up to May's UK election. That vote, he said, would ''not be a re-run of the referendum'' but would be ''a chance to hold Westminster's feet to the fire to make sure they fulfil the promise, the pledge, the vow''.

Scottish independence referendum results