Dewar will stand as First Minister in Scotland

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Without saying so, because it would have been uncharacteristically presumptuous, Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, yesterday put himself forward as a candidate for the post of First Minister in the new Scottish Parliament.

Ending months of speculation in which the name of Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, occasionally popped up as a contender, Mr Dewar said in a statement that with the Scotland Bill due to receive its second reading in the Commons on Monday, it was the right time to make his intentions clear.

"There is of course much preparatory work to be done to ensure that the Parliament gets off to a flying start," he said, "and I am fully committed to that task. The relationship with the Government of the United Kingdom will be crucial. The new parliament must earn the confidence of the Scots. If I can help in any way to achieve these aims as a member of the new parliament, I would very much want to do so."

Tony Blair, who actively encouraged Mr Dewar to make the move, said he would be greatly missed at Westminster. But he added: "I'm actually delighted that Donald has decided to stand for the Scottish parliament. He is an outstanding figure in British and Scottish politics and has an enormous contribution to make."Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, also welcomed the news, though he warned: "The issue of who will be First Minister is for the people of Scotland to determine in elections to the Parliament in May 1999."

The Liberal Democrats' Menzies Campbell said: "He will be a commanding presence in the Scottish Parliament and has the advantage of being highly regarded right across the political spectrum."