Alex Salmond predicts better days ahead for Scotland in final speech as First Minister

SNP leader hands reigns to Nicola Sturgeon

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Alex Salmond formally resigned as Scotland’s First Minister today, predicting in his valedictory speech that “more change and better days lie ahead” for the country he has led for the past seven and a half years.

During his farewell address at Holyrood, which was greeted with a standing ovation from MSPs, Mr Salmond said Scotland had “changed utterly and much for the better” in the 15 years since it was granted its own parliament.

Praising his replacement Nicola Sturgeon, he said: “Any parting is tinged with some sorrow, but in this case it is vastly outweighed by a sense of optimism and confidence. Confidence that we will have an outstanding new First Minister. Confidence in the standing and the capability of this chamber, and most of all confidence in the wisdom, talent and potential of the people of Scotland.”

Mr Salmond, who early in his career was suspended from the House of Commons for disrupting the then-chancellor Nigel Lawson’s budget speech, slowly rose through the political ranks to become leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

He has since become Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister, taking his country to the brink of independence from the rest of the UK in September’s closely-fought referendum. He announced his intention to step down hours after the No side’s victory was confirmed.

Alex Salmond chairs his final cabinet meeting as First Minister at Bute House in Edinburgh, alongside First Minister-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon (PA)

Mr Salmond’s rival party leaders had mixed words about his legacy. Comparing him with Margaret Thatcher, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said he had been “a Marmite figure, with his supporters as passionate as his detractors”.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said she had “sparred, disagreed and fallen out” with Mr Salmond, but added that she recognised his commitment to public service, describing him as “a towering figure in Scottish politics”.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson added: “To have served two decades at the helm, and more than seven years as First Minister, is a feat of enormous stamina, will-power and discipline.”

There is much speculation that Mr Salmond will soon return to Westminster as an MP, standing for a seat in the House of Commons at the general election in May.