SNP leader Alex Salmond re-elected as first minister

Alex Salmond was voted in as first minister by MSPs at Holyrood

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SNP leader Alex Salmond has been re-elected unopposed as first minister of Scotland, heading the country's first majority government.

Following the party's 5 May election win, Mr Salmond set out the case for increased powers for Scotland and branded sectarianism a "parasite".

Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems congratulated the first minister.

But the parties pledged to oppose independence, ahead of the SNP's planned referendum.

MSPs backed Mr Salmond's appointment as first minister, which requires final approval from the Queen, by 68 votes to zero, with 57 abstentions.

The move came after the SNP won 69 of the 129 Scottish Parliament seats.

Speaking at Holyrood, Mr Salmond said Scotland needed more financial clout, and called on Westminster to devolve borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estates and excise duty.

The first minister also called for control over digital broadcasting and said Scotland must have increased influence in Europe.

Start Quote

A change is coming and the people are ready”

End Quote Alex Salmond First minister of Scotland

He said: "I think we should seize the moment - act together to bring these powers back home.

"Let this parliament move forward, as one, to make Scotland better."

Mr Salmond wants his wishlist of new powers added to the Scotland Bill, currently going through Westminster, but a spokesman for Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said such requests would have to be backed up by "solid evidence and detailed assessment".

The Scottish government is planning to hold its independence referendum in the second half of the five-year parliament.

Mr Salmond said: "We see our nation emerge from the glaur of self-doubt and negativity - a change is coming and the people are ready.

"They put ambition ahead of hesitation and the process is not about endings, it's about beginnings."

Mr Salmond went on: "Whatever changes take place in our constitution, we will remain close to our neighbours.

Analysis

Excellent speeches in Holyrood today - and not just from the newly installed first minister.

Worthy contributions from each of the leading opposition figures: those who are departing from office (like Annabel Goldie); those who are staying (like Patrick Harvie); those who have just arrived (Willie Rennie); and those who are welcome, permanent figures (Margo MacDonald.)

In particular, I might commend Iain Gray's contribution: a dignified concession of victory allied to a pledge of constructive opposition.

Patrick Harvie, too, essayed an analysis of the nature of opposition politics in a majority parliament.

But the day definitely and rightly belonged to Alex Salmond.

No rival nominee, no doubt about the outcome - but matched with a thoughtful, polished contribution, free from bombast and hubris.

"My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals.

"There is a difference between partnership and subordination - the first encourages mutual respect, the second breeds resentment."

Following a recent spate of incidents related to Celtic and Rangers football clubs, Mr Salmond also said the new Scotland was built on the old custom of hospitality.

He added: "Modern Scotland is also built on equality - we will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society".

The Scottish election saw Labour emerge with 37 seats, the Conservatives with 15, the Liberal Democrats have five seats and the Greens have two MSPs.

Independent MSP Margo Macdonald was also returned to parliament.

Outgoing Labour leader Iain Gray congratulated Mr Salmond.

He said the challenge now was for the Scottish government to deliver all it promised during the election campaign, while ensuring parliament held the majority administration to account.

Mr Gray added: "For those of the government party, that will require an independence of thought and action, especially in committee, which might not always be comfortable - but is their democratic obligation.

"For those of us on the opposition benches it will require a willingness to accept the mandate the government has and style our opposition and scrutiny accordingly.

"That will not always be comfortable either but is an obligation too."

Mr Gray went on to reiterate his top election priority of job creation, telling MSPs: "In the past 10 days we have heard plenty about the 57 varieties of independence - we have heard nothing about unemployment."

Alex Salmond and Iain Gray Labour's Iain Gray congratulated Iain Gray, along with other opposition leaders

Tory MSP Annabel Goldie, who is also standing down as her party's leader, said Mr Salmond had achieved a "remarkable election result", but warned: "Can I just haul him back to planet earth with a little dose of realism.

"He may have a majority of seats in this parliament - he does not have a majority of votes from Scotland. He may want separation, most people in Scotland do not.

"The only mandate he has from the election is to be a devolved government in the Scottish Parliament."

Miss Goldie said voters expected the SNP to focus on jobs, education, health and justice, adding: "When he tucks himself up in bed in his 'Alex Salmond for First Minister night shirt', interspersing his dreams of a Scottish republic should be the sobering thought that the buck now stops with him.

"He has the majority in this parliament, he can't blame others."

In his first Holyrood speech since becoming Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie pledged his party would have a strong voice across the next parliament, despite having only five MSPs.

"The people of Scotland have chosen - this time - not to give strong Liberal numbers in this parliament, so that makes it more important for strong, liberal voices," he said.

"It is important that public life is not dominated by the forces of nationalism or conservatism in this country or anywhere else."

Mr Rennie said the first minister now faced questions on "what exactly it is he is claiming a mandate for", telling parliament: "If his majority becomes a bulldozer for nationalism, then we will do what we can to oppose him inside this chamber and outside these walls."

On Thursday, Mr Salmond will announce his ministerial team, which also needs parliamentary approval.

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