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Salmond sets sights on Westminster

Scotland's former First Minister Alex Salmond is to stand for a seat in Westminster at the general election in May.

He resigned as SNP leader and First Minister last month, having signalled his intention to do so just hours after the Yes campaign lost the independence referendum, and speculation over his political future has continued ever since.

It is understood that Mr Salmond is expected to announce his candidacy for the Gordon constituency tomorrow.

The seat, which shares some areas with Mr Salmond's Aberdeenshire East Holyrood constituency, is currently represented by Liberal Democrat Sir Malcolm Bruce, who is retiring in May.

Mr Salmond was previously an MP for Banff and Buchan between 1987 and 2010.

Since the referendum, support for the SNP has swelled and the party's membership has grown from 25,000 to more than 92,000.

Recent polls have also predicted large gains for the party at next year's general election, with one showing the SNP leading Labour by 46% to 26% in Scotland.

Mr Salmond, who remains an MSP, has regularly been asked about his future since stepping down as First Minister.

On an episode of Question Time in October he was asked if he would consider a return to Westminster and told host David Dimbleby: ''The answer to your question David, absolutely decisively I can tell you I haven't made up my mind. So you'll have to wait and see."

When standing down as First Minister last month, Mr Salmond described his seven-year tenure as the "privilege" of his life.

He was given a standing ovation by his party colleagues, and was embraced by deputy Nicola Sturgeon, who has replaced him at the head of the Scottish Government.

He said: "In the last few months we have watched an electorate passionately engaged in the business of fashioning their own future. I see little evidence that the people of Scotland resented the government pursuing that business with them and for them...

''Scotland has a new sense of political confidence and a new sense of economic confidence.

''That new sense of political confidence, or engagement, is the point on which I wish to end.''

The Gordon seat, which will now become one of the most-watched in next year's general election, was won by Lib Dem Mr Bruce with a majority of 6,748 over the SNP in 2010.

Mr Salmond, who was First Minister for seven years, was named Spectator magazine's Politician of the Year at a ceremony in London last week.

He said he was ''honoured'' to receive the award for a second time, having previously been recognised in 2011 after the SNP's landslide win in the Scottish elections.

The former SNP leader said: ''This has been a momentous year for Scotland and, while the Yes campaign may not have won in the referendum, there is no doubt that Scotland has been changed utterly.

''With the SNP now the third biggest party in the UK with more than twice as many members as the Lib Dems, and support for the party surging in the polls, there is a determination in Scotland to ensure that real progress is delivered.''

Mr Bruce said: "People in Gordon rejected the First Minister's independence plans overwhelmingly at the referendum.

"I am sure that they would be delighted to have the chance to reject him again in May. Bring it on."

Lib Dem candidate Christine Jardine, who hopes to replace the retiring Mr Bruce, said: "People in the North East are counting the cost of seven years of Alex Salmond.

"We have been short-changed by millions of pounds in council funding, our roads have been neglected and our NHS has been left at breaking point.

"While Alex Salmond's mind was on his independence crusade, doctors, nurses, patients and vital public sector workers were being let down.

"I'm delighted the former First Minister is set to put an end to the game-playing.

"The people of Gordon deserve better, just as they deserve an MP who will stand up for what's important to them, not chase their personal political agenda at the cost of what's best for the people of the North East.

"I intend to be a strong voice for all the people of Gordon."

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