September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Alex Salmond resigns

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Alex Salmond has announced he is stepping down as SNP leader and First Minister.

Hours after the referendum defeat, Salmond said he would resign his post once the party elects a new leader at its conference in November.

And his deputy Nicola Sturgeon appeared to indicate she would be running to replace him.

In an emotional press conference he said he had been “immensely proud” of the Yes campaign and the 1.6million voters who had voted in favour of independence.

He said: “The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows.

"For me right now , therefore there is a decision as to who is best placed to lead this process forward politically.

"I believe that in this new exciting situation, redolent with possibility, Party, Parliament and country would benefit from new leadership.”

Salmond, who pointed out that he turns 60 in December and has been the longest-serving First Minister, said there was now the opportunity “to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire” on the promise to devolve more meaningful powers to Scotland.

However, having telephoned David Cameron earlier today, he claimed the Prime Minister had told him the promise from Gordon Brown of a second reading by 27 March of a new Scotland Bill would be “meaningless” and added: “I suspect he cannot guarantee the support of his party.”

The announcement took many people by surprise and it was understood only a small circle of people had been briefed he would be standing down in advance of the announcement.

In a statement Nicola Sturgeon, who many would tip as Salmond’s replacement paid tribute to him.

She said: “Alex Salmond's achievements as SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister are second to none. He led the SNP into government and has given our country a renewed self confidence. Through policies such as the council tax freeze, free prescriptions and the scrapping of tuition fees, he has made a real difference for hundreds of thousands of Scots.

“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.”

As to whether she would stand, she said: “I can think of no greater privilege than to seek to lead the Party I joined when I was just 16. However, that decision is not for today. My priority this weekend, after a long and hard campaign, is to get some rest and spend time with my family”

Tributes were also paid from outside the party. Green MSP Patrick Harvie, said: “It’s no secret that the Scottish Green Party and I haven’t always agreed with Alex Salmond, but nobody in Scottish politics can doubt his commitment to the cause of Scottish independence, or the impact he has had not only within Scotland, but also on a movement which still has the potential to reshape politics throughout these islands.”