ALEX Salmond today said he would be standing down as Scotland’s First Minister and Scottish National Party leader.
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.”
Mr Salmond said that at the age of 59, after 20 years as SNP leader and seven years as First Minister, it was time to hand over the reins.
He said: “I think that’s a reasonable spell of service and I think there is an aspect that you have to understand and recognise when it is time to give someone else a chance to move that forward.”
“I made the decision this morning,” he added. “I believed there was great possibilities in the campaign and obviously I wouldn’t have made the decision if there had been a Yes vote.
“I believe in the circumstances the vote we have, galvanising, wonderful, empowering and massive though it is, it’s my judgement that someone else in the leadership would be best-placed to take that forward to the summit.”
Mr Salmond earlier said he accepted “the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland” and called on the leaders of the three main pro-Union parties to live up to promises of further devolution they made during the referendum campaign.
Despite winning a majority of votes in some areas - including the nation’s largest city Glasgow - the Yes campaign failed to secure enough support to win the historic referendum, failing to take key targets like Clackmannanshire and the Western Isles and falling well behind in the capital Edinburgh.
After a night of drama, the result became a mathematical certainty shortly after 6am, as the returning officer in Fife announced a comfortable majority for No in the county.
Mr Salmond’s deputy Nicola Sturgeon had already conceded defeat with a handful of results still to be declared, telling the BBC she felt a “real sense of disappointment that we have fallen narrowly short of securing a Yes vote”.
The First Minister - whose failure to attend his local count in Aberdeenshire led to early speculation that Yes Scotland was heading for defeat - accepted in a speech at 6.15am before a One Scotland banner in Edinburgh that the country did not want independence “at this stage”.
He said: “It is important to say that our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by a majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country.
“I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland.”
In an early-morning phone call, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, the leader of the cross-party Better Together campaign, to congratulate him on “a well-fought campaign”.
The PM is due to make a televised address to the nation this morning in which he is expected to set out plans for further devolution to Scotland as well as a “rebalancing” of the representation of the four nations of the UK.
Mr Cameron said the Scottish independence debate had been “settled for a generation” and now was time “for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward”.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “I’m absolutely delighted the Scottish people have taken this momentous decision to safeguard our family of nations for future generations.
“In a dangerous and uncertain world I have no doubt we are stronger, safer, and more prosperous together than we ever could be apart.
“But a vote against independence was clearly not a vote against change and we must now deliver on time and in full the radical package of newly devolved powers to Scotland.
“At the same time, this referendum north of the border has led to demand for constitutional reform across the United Kingdom as people south of the border also want more control and freedom in their own hands rather than power being hoarded in Westminster.
“So this referendum marks not only a new chapter for Scotland within the UK but also wider constitutional reform across the Union.”
Mr Salmond said the referendum and the high turnout had been a “triumph for the democratic process” and promised to keep his pledge in the Edinburgh Agreement which paved the way for the referendum to respect the result and work for the benefit of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
He told supporters: “The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland.
“Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course - as a reminder, we have been promised a second reading of a Scotland Bill by March 27 next year.
“Not just the 1.6 million Scots who voted for independence will demand that timetable is followed but all Scots who participated in this referendum will demand that timetable is followed.”
Mr Salmond said he would shortly speak to the Prime Minister on the results.
But he highlighted the “empowerment” of first time voters, including 16 and 17 year olds.
And the First Minister said: “Whatever else we can say about this referendum campaign, we have touched sections of the community who have never before been touched by politics, these sections of the community have touched us and touched the political process.
“I don’t think that will ever be allowed to go back to business as usual in politics again.”
In a rallying call to his supporters, Mr Salmond urged the Yes voters to reflect on how far they had come.
“I don’t think any of us, whenever we entered politics, would have thought such a thing to be either credible or possible,” he said.
“Over the last few weeks we have seen a scare and a fear of enormous proportions - not a scaremongering directed at the Scottish people but the scare and the fear at the heart of the Westminster establishment as they realise the mass movement of people that was going forward in Scotland.
“Today of all days as we bring Scotland together, let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short, let us dwell on the distance we have travelled and have confidence the movement is abroad in Scotland that will take this nation forward and we shall go forward as one nation.”
Mr Darling said Scotland had chosen “positive change, rather than needless separation”.
Speaking before a banner reading “Love Scotland, Vote No” in Glasgow, the Better Together leader said: “Today is a momentous result for Scotland and also for the United Kingdom as a whole.
“By confirming our place within the United Kingdom, we have reaffirmed all that we have in common and the bonds that tie us together. Let them never be broken.”
Mr Darling said all parties that had made “shared commitments to change” must now work to put those promises into action both north and south of the border.
And he told No campaigners - who had never matched Yes Scotland in terms of their visible presence on the streets and in social media: “You represent the majority of opinion and your voices have been heard. We’ve taken on the argument and we’ve won. The silent have spoken.”
To loud cheers from supporters, Mr Darling concluded: “The vote is over and the Scottish people have now delivered their verdict. We have taken a decision for progress and change for Scotland within the United Kingdom. Come on Scotland, let’s get on with it together.”