Nicola Sturgeon has been confirmed as the only candidate to replace Alex Salmond as leader of the Scottish National party, becoming Scotland’s first female first minister when she formally takes over leadership at the party’s conference next month.
After serving as Salmond’s deputy for seven years, Sturgeon was expected to be elected unopposed to succeed him after he stood down hours after Scotland voted to reject independence in last month’s referendum.
Sturgeon was the only person to have put her name forward as a candidate before Wednesday’s 9am deadline. Her appointment requires the approval of parliament, but the SNP’s majority at Holyrood would ensure that this is a formality.
Launching her leadership bid a week after the referendum, Sturgeon said she accepted and respected Scottish voters had voted to remain in the UK and promised to work “in good faith” with pro-union parties and the Smith commission, which will oversee the fast-tracked programme to draw up new tax and welfare powers for Scotland by January.
Setting out the Scottish government’s submission to the Smith commission on Friday, which called for maximum devolution within the UK including full control over tax and fiscal policy, Sturgeon said: “This cannot be an attempt to win independence by the back door.”
Following the close of nominations on Wednesday morning, Sturgeon described it as a “privilege” to have been chosen by the SNP to succeed Salmond.
“Alex is a hard act to follow but I am determined to lead the SNP – and the country – from strength to strength.”
Reiterating her determination to ensure that Holyrood secures the powers promised to Scotland by the pro-union parties before the referendum, she said: “I will always make the case for Scotland to be an independent country, but with the Westminster parties already backsliding on the delivery of new powers, my immediate job will be to hold them firmly to account – and I am today putting them on notice that I intend to do just that.”
Sturgeon also announced a speaking tour of cities across Scotland to rally the thousands of new members who have joined the SNP since the referendum on 18 September.
The membership surge shows no sign of abating, with the total now at 84,000, making the SNP the third largest party in the UK.
She said the tour would set the tone for her tenure as first minister. “I am looking forward to meeting as many of our new recruits as possible and sharing with them my vision for the future.
“The tour of Scotland that I will undertake in the next few weeks also sets the template for the kind of first minister I want to be – open, accessible and determined to work with others across the political divide to find common cause and build a better country.
“The hope, excitement and sense of opportunity of the referendum campaign did not end on polling day. It is alive, well and growing. This is a great time for Scotland and I look forward to leading my party and our country to even better times ahead.”
As Sturgeon’s leadership was confirmed, Alex Salmond described his former deputy as “the outstanding politician of her generation in Scotland”.
Speaking after a keynote address to the Scottish TUC’s conference in Glasgow, Salmond said: “She is absolutely ready for this role. She has outstanding ability, and she’ll be Scotland’s first female first minister, which is important.”
Noting that the latest employment figures show a record number of women in the Scottish workplace, he added: “We’re moving towards Scandinavian levels of women’s participation in the workforce, so it’s entirely appropriate that we have three female leaders in the Scottish parliament. And it makes an effective contrast to Westminster.”
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