ALEX Salmond announced today he was to stand down as First Minister and SNP leader in the wake of the referendum result.
After the referendum defeat, Mr Salmond said it was time for a new leader who could now take the devolution process forward.
Mr Salmond said he believed party, parliament and country would “benefit from new leadership”.
He added: “I believe that in this new exciting situation, redolent with possibility, Party, Parliament and country would benefit from new leadership.
“Therefore I have told the National Secretary of the SNP that I will not accept nomination to be a candidate for leader at the Annual Conference in Perth on 13th-15th November.
“After the membership ballot I will stand down as First Minister to allow the new leader to be elected by due Parliamentary process.
“Until then I will continue to serve as First Minister. After that I will continue to offer to serve as Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeenshire East.
“It has been the privilege of my life to serve Scotland as First Minister. But as I said often during the referendum campaign this is not about me or the SNP. It is much more important than that.
“The position is this. We lost the referendum vote but can still carry the political initiative. More importantly, Scotland can still emerge as the real winner.”
SNP Deputy Leader Nicola Sturgeon said she could think of “no greater privilege” than to take the top job but insisted the decision was “not for today”.
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. And yesterday he inspired 1.6 million of our fellow citizens to vote Yes to independence.
“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.
“Alex’s announcement today inevitably raises the question of whether I will be a candidate to succeed him as SNP leader.
“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. I also want the focus over the next few days to be on the outstanding record and achievements of the finest First Minister Scotland has had.”
Tributes were paid by Mr Salmond’s rivals Prime Minister David Cameron and Better Together leader Alistair Darling, as well as former SNP leader Gordon Wilson.
The Prime Minister said: “Alex is a politician of huge talent and passion. He has been an effective First Minister and always fights his corner.
“While we disagree profoundly about his goal of a separated Scotland, and many other things, I respect and admire his huge contribution to politics and public life.”
Mr Darling said: “Alex Salmond is a formidable political figure. He transformed the SNP into a party of government and delivered their referendum on independence which they had craved so long.
“Today he has accepted Scotland’s verdict, recognising that it is for others in his party to take the SNP forward.
“He has rightly said that the referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime event and that we all need to work to bring Scotland together.
“He can look back with pride on being the longest-serving First Minister and to the huge contribution he has made to public life in Scotland. I wish him well in the future.”
Mr Wilson said: “Alex Salmond fought a brilliant referendum campaign.
“It is not his fault that the Scottish people did not vote for independence on this occasion.
“The winning of 45% of the vote in the Scottish independence referendum is a superlative achievement.
“It is a mark of Alex’s integrity that he has taken personal responsibility. He is undoubtedly the greatest Scottish politician of his generation.”