Alex Salmond has resigned as Scotland’s First Minister, telling Holyrood he leaves office with “a sense of optimism and confidence”.
During a statement at the Scottish Parliament, Mr Salmond said it had been “the privilege of his life” to serve in the role for the past seven-and-a-half years.
He is making way for his deputy Nicola Sturgeon to take over, and he said she will make an “outstanding” First Minister.
Mr Salmond received a standing ovation from MSPs after delivering his final words, before being embraced by Ms Sturgeon.
He told his parliamentary colleagues he was leaving at a time when the Scottish electorate has become energised, empowered and engaged in politics once again following the independence referendum.
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.
“Scotland has changed, changed utterly and much for the better over the 15 years of this Parliament and over the seven years of this Government. But I am happy to say that with every degree of certainty that more change and better days lie ahead for this Parliament and for Scotland.”
He added: “Scotland now has the most energised, empowered and informed electorate of any country in Europe. We have a new generation of citizens who understand that their opinion matters, who believe that their voice will be heard and who know that their vote can shape the society they live in.
“For all of us that should be a point of pride, a source of challenge. For me, the sense of generational change has been a factor in deciding the time is right to move on from being First Minister.
“For this Parliament, it should spur us on to become even more accessible, to serve the new expectations of the people.
“For everyone in public life it should inspire us to involve, include and empower the electorate, as we continue the quest to create a more prosperous and more equal Scotland.
“I wish each and every one of you well in pursuit of that endeavour.”
Mr Salmond announced his intention to step down just hours after losing the independence referendum in September.
Since then, speculation over Mr Salmond’s political future has led to suggestions he will return to Westminster, and he is expected to make his position clear in due course.
He remains MSP for Aberdeenshire East, but he could stand for a seat in the House of Commons at the general election in May.
Ms Sturgeon will be formally appointed as First Minister during a selection process at Holyrood tomorrow, and will be sworn in at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Thursday.