Alex Salmond Quits As Scottish First Minister After Referendum Defeat

Alex Salmond has announced he will quit as Scottish first minister and leader of the SNP, following the decision by voters to reject Scottish independence.

Speaking in Edinburgh on Friday afternoon, Salmond said it had been the "privilege of his life" to serve as first minister, but the time had come for someone new to take charge. "For Scotland, the campaign continues and the dream shall never die," he said.

On Thursday, Scots voted 55% to 45% in favour of Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom, with the promise of more devolved powers from Westminster. "The party, parliament and country would benefit from new leadership," Salmond said. The SNP deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon, will be the favourite to succeed him at the top of the party.

Sturgeon said she "can think of no greater privilege than to seek to lead" the SNP after Salmond's resignation.

She added: "The personal debt of gratitude I owe Alex is immeasurable. He has been my friend, mentor and colleague for more than 20 years. Quite simply, I would not have been able to do what I have in politics without his constant advice, guidance and support through all these years."

Following Scotland's vote to stay part of the UK, the Queen has said it was "a result that all of us throughout the United Kingdom will respect".

"We have in common our enduring love of Scotland, which is one of the things that helps to unite us all," she added.

Announcing his resignation, the First Minister said: "I am immensely proud of the campaign which Yes Scotland fought and of the 1.6 million voters who rallied to that cause by backing an independent Scotland.

"I am also proud of the 85 per cent turnout in the referendum and the remarkable response of all of the people of Scotland who participated in this great constitutional debate and the manner in which they conducted themselves."

A visibly exhausted Salmond added: "I have told the National Secretary of the SNP that I will not accept nomination to be a candidate for leader at the Annual Conference in Perth on November 13-15. After the membership ballot I will stand down as First Minister to allow the new leader to be elected by due Parliamentary process."

In London, senior politicians reacted the the news. Prime Minister David Cameron praised Salmond for its "huge talent and passion" in a message on Twitter.

Conservative culture secretar Sajid Javid tweeted: "Whatever your opinion of Alex Salmond, he's a formidable conviction politician. Wish him the very best."

Labour leader Ed Milbiand praised Salmond as "a formidable frontline politician", adding: "Whatever our disagreements, he has always spoke his mind and he has always stood up for what he believed in."

Meanwhile Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives' leader, said Salmond's departure "will help our country come back together again".

She added: “I am pleased that the First Minister says he will continue to serve in Scottish politics. “Scotland will benefit from his experience and service as we move forward."

Salmond said that at the age of 59, after 20 years as SNP leader and seven years as First Minister, it was time to hand over the reins. "I think that's a reasonable spell of service and I think there is an aspect that you have to understand and recognise when it is time to give someone else a chance to move that forward," he said.

"I made the decision this morning," he added. "I believed there was great possibilities in the campaign and obviously I wouldn't have made the decision if there had been a Yes vote."