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Sturgeon vow as she takes SNP crown

Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to lead Scotland to "better times ahead" as she succeeded Alex Salmond as the leader of the SNP.

Ms Sturgeon, who has been Scotland's Deputy First Minister for seven years, will also take over from him as First Minister of Scotland when he leaves government next week.

She was the only candidate to take over from Mr Salmond, who announced he was stepping down from both roles in the wake of the referendum defeat.

She was formally confirmed as the new leader at the start of the SNP annual conference in Perth.

Ms Sturgeon told activists that she was "overwhelmed by a feeling of privilege and responsibility".

But she added that, above all else, she had a "sense of real excitement about the opportunities to come".

She said: "This is a good time for our party and this is a good time for our country.

"I'm ready to lead this party and this country to even better times ahead."

MP Stewart Hosie, who has been the party's Treasury spokesman at Westminster, was voted in as new depute leader of the party.

He had stood against Keith Brown, the transport and veterans minister at Holyrood, and Angela Constance, who is Secretary for Training, Youth and Women's Employment in the Scottish Government.

Ms Sturgeon said: "To become the leader of the party I joined as a teenager is the biggest privilege of my life.

"It is an emotional moment, and one that I cherish and one that I relish."

She said that she would have three key priorities as leader, the first of these being to ensure the party "continues each and every day to govern this country to the best of our ability".

She added: "We will do so with competence, energy, commitment, with imagination and with vision.

"We were elected first as a minority in 2007 and then as a majority in 2011 to improve our health service, to provide better education for our children, to keep our communities safe from crime.

"As long as I am first minister of this country that is what we will do each and every day."

But she said her party would also seek to hold Westminster leaders to account for the vow they made of substantial new powers for Holyrood in the run up to the referendum.

Ms Sturgeon set the party the challenge of winning the general election next year north of the border, saying: "When the SNP is strong, Scotland is strong. Our voice will be heard and our interests will be protected.

"Make no mistake - I want the Westminster parties to hear this loudly and clearly - with a strong team of SNP MPs at Westminster there will be no hiding place.

"That vow, that promise for more powers will be delivered, it will be delivered in full."

She also pledged under her leadership the SNP would "keep making the case for Scotland being an independent country".

Ms Sturgeon said: "I believe today as strongly as I ever have that we should be independent. And I believe today as strongly as I ever have, perhaps more strongly than I ever have, that we will be independent."

But she made clear Scotland would only leave the UK when a majority of its people back this in a referendum.

Since the independence vote in September, the SNP has seen its membership swell from 25,000 to 85,000, making it the biggest party in Scotland "by a country mile".

Ms Sturgeon added that the party's trade union group now had more members that the Scottish Labour Party.

She said that one in 50 adults in Scotland was now a member of the SNP, adding this gave the party the ability "to reach parts of Scotland our opponents will never, ever reach".

She congratulated Mr Hosie, saying he would an "outstanding" depute leader for the party, as she told him: "I look forward immensely with you at my side to leading this party to even bigger and better times ahead."

She also paid tribute to Mr Salmond, giving the outgoing First Minister, who has taken the SNP from being a party of opposition to majority government at Holyrood, the "biggest thank you".

Ms Sturgeon said: " In Alex Salmond I have the hardest of acts to follow.

"He has been an outstanding leader of our party. He has been an outstanding First Minister for Scotland."

Mr Hosie called activists to keep the same "campaigning energy" that they had in the referendum in the run-up to May's UK election.

That vote, he said, would "not be a re-run of the referendum" but would be "a chance to hold Westminster's feet to the fire to make sure they fulfil the promise, the pledge, the vow".

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg had all said they would give Holyrood substantial new powers in the event of a No vote in the referendum.

Mr Hosie said: "Remember what it was they told the Scottish people, many of whom voted No to get more powers. The closest thing to a federal state within one to two years.

"Let's make sure they deliver that promise by delivering the largest number, a record number, of SNP MPs next year.

"That's the raw power Westminster understands, that's what Scotland needs to deliver next year so this party is the guarantor of the powers Scotland needs."

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour's interim leader in the wake of Johann Lamont's sudden resignation, congratulated both Ms Sturgeon and Mr Hosie, but added that " in their opening remarks to their conference both showed they are still obsessed by their referendum defeat".

Mr Sarwar said: "The people of Scotland voted in overwhelming numbers against independence, but now they want to use the general election to fight the referendum again.

"The people of Scotland will vote for MPs who will fight for their constituents - not for another referendum that the majority of Scots just rejected, and choosing 'celebrity' candidates from the Yes campaign won't alter that fact.

"In May, the Labour Party will fight the election with candidates offering progressive policies that will make a difference to people's lives. We'll freeze energy prices, reintroduce a 50p tax rate and will increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour, none of which has been supported by the SNP."

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