By a Newsnet reporter
Nicola Sturgeon MSP took on the Scottish National Party leadership today, alongside her newly-elected deputy Stewart Hosie MP, on the platform at the annual conference in Perth.
Mr Hosie’s election surprised some, given that popular MSP Keith Brown had been tipped as the deputy leadership favourite in a three-way contest that included Angela Constance MSP.
A total of 34,934 votes were cast in the contest, with a turnout of 55.7 per cent. After the redistribution of votes from Ms Constance, who came third, Mr Hosie won by 18,915 votes to 15,150 — a majority of 55.5 to 44.5 per cent.
It is thought that the result reflected a desire within the party that Ms Sturgeon — who is likely to be elected First Minister at Holyrood later this month — should have a deputy drawn from the SNP’s Westminster group, especially given the coming UK general election.
The SNP pointed out that the number of votes cast was 10,000 more than the party had members as recently as the September referendum. Membership has soared beyond 80,000 since that date, and outgoing leader Alex Salmond MSP wants that figure to reach 100,000 before the May 7 elections.
Earlier, new party leader and First Minister-in-waiting Sturgeon told delegates: “I believe today, as strongly as I ever have, perhaps more strongly, that we will be independent.
“Our task remains as it has always been: not to impose our will, not to berate those who disagree with us, but to persuade respectfully and intelligently through the strength of our arguments and the power of our actions, to persuade the majority of our fellow Scots that the best future for our country – the way to build a more prosperous, more successful country and a fairer society, is for us to become a normal independent nation.”
Mr Hosie said that the party is now in “a fantastic” position to deliver a strong team of Westminster MPs.
“Our main focus as a party and a government must be to build a stronger economy which works for everyone in Scotland, creating more and better jobs and tackling the inequality which successive Westminster governments have allowed to grow for far too long,” he added.
“We will use every policy lever currently at our disposal, and will work to ensure that the additional powers we need to create a stronger economy and a fairer society are in Scotland’s hands. The referendum campaign changed Scotland forever: people across the country simply aren’t willing to return to the same old ‘politics as usual’ from the Westminster establishment”
Ms Sturgeon – whose mother Joan was among the audience that cheered her unopposed election to the leadership in Perth – promised to govern Scotland with competence, energy, commitment, imagination and vision. She wants a strong SNP group to be elected to Westminster next year because “when the SNP is strong, Scotland is strong”.
It is becoming widely expected that outgoing First Minister Salmond will seek election to Westminster and play a key role within that group.