Salmond is SNP leader again with Sturgeon as No 2

Key points

• Salmond wins 75% of ballot

• Good to be back says new leader

• 80% of SNP members voted

Key quote

"Nicola and I intend to win the 2007 election in Scotland and we will do that by offering a vision to the people where currently there is a vacuum." - ALEX SALMOND

Story in full ALEX SALMOND was today elected as the new leader of the Scottish National Party with his "running mate" Nicola Sturgeon as his deputy.

Mr Salmond won his old job back with more than three quarters of the vote in the internal election by party members.

And Ms Sturgeon took 53 per cent in the separate deputy contest - a more convincing victory than many had expected.

Mr Salmond told cheering supporters: "It’s good to be back."

He plans to continue as an MP at Westminster for the next four years, leaving Ms Sturgeon to lead the SNP in the Scottish Parliament. But he repeated his determination to replace Jack McConnell as First Minister at the next Holyrood elections.

He said: "Nicola and I intend to win the 2007 election in Scotland and we will do that by offering a vision to the people where currently there is a vacuum."

Nearly 80 per cent of the party’s 8200 members voted in the contest, the first to be decided on the basis of a postal ballot among the membership.

Mr Salmond won 4592 votes (75.76 per cent), Roseanna Cunningham was second with 953 votes (14.58 per cent) and former party chief executive Mike Russell third with 631 (9.65 per cent).

The deputy result was: Nicola Sturgeon 3521 votes (53.87 per cent); Fergus Ewing 1605 votes (24.56 per cent); Christine Grahame 1410 votes (21.57 per cent).

Ms Sturgeon said: "I’m delighted Alex has been elected to lead the SNP. I believe he will now lead us to victory in 2007. Between now and then I will take on Mr McConnell in the Scottish Parliament and win.

"As a party we might lack the resources of our opponents. But what makes us strong is the belief we all carry in our hearts that Scotland should be free.

"It is a simple but noble belief and if we unite behind it, I know we can inspire the people of Scotland to believe it too."

The leadership contest followed the resignation in June of John Swinney, who had taken over the top job from Mr Salmond when he stepped down in 2000.

Mr Salmond initially ruled out returning to his old job back.

He went on television shortly after Mr Swinney’s resignation and insisted: "If nominated, I would decline. If drafted, I will defer and, if elected, I will resign."

But just the day before nominations closed he announced he had changed his mind.

Ms Sturgeon agreed to give up her own ambitions for the top job and stand for deputy instead.

But the timing of his declaration left no time for other candidates to reassess their position.

There was speculation Mr Salmond, who had previously backed Ms Sturgeon for leader with Lothians MSP Kenny MacAskill as her deputy, decided to enter the race because he believed Ms Sturgeon could not win.

Some activists resented the attempt to get Ms Sturgeon elected as part of a "slate" with Mr Salmond, but any backlash in favour of the other two deputy contenders was not enough to deny her the role.

After the result was announced, Ms Grahame said she congratulated the winners and was "100 per cent behind the leader and deputy leader".

And Mr Ewing said he hoped the party could capitalise on the momentum created by the leadership contest.