Nicola Sturgeon has been re-elected as the first minister of Scotland by a majority of MSPs at Holyrood.
The SNP leader said she wants to lead the country “to brighter and better times” and said recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was her “driving priority”.
After her re-election, Sturgeon argued there was a “clear mandate” for another Scottish independence referendum but promised to “exercise that mandate with responsibility, humility, and only when the crisis of Covid has passed”.
Sturgeon defeated Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who each put themselves forward as candidates.
She won 64 votes, ahead of Ross on 31, four for Willie Rennie and 28 MSPs abstained.
In her pitch to MSPs ahead of voting, Sturgeon said: “In government, I have sought over this past year to work across the chamber throughout the Covid crisis.
“If re-nominated today, I will continue to do so as we do implement a programme to kickstart recovery.
“That will be a programme with the NHS, the economy and jobs at its heart, and we will take an inclusive approach to the debate that all countries must have about how we can build the best possible post-pandemic future.”
Following her election, she said: “There is simply no greater privilege than to be elected as the first minister of our country.
“I pledge that I will fulfil the duties placed on me to the very best of my ability.
“I will do all I can, with all of the powers vested in the office of first minister, to make our country the best possible place to live, work, and grow up in.”
Addressing the issue of Scottish independence, Sturgeon acknowledged opinion was “evenly balanced” and said that while nationalist views should not be ignored, pro-union Scots “mustn’t feel as if you are being bludgeoned towards an outcome you have not been persuaded of”.
She continued: “Our economic prospects depend on us attracting more people to live and work here in Scotland and yet on Thursday, in Kenmure Street in my constituency, immigration officials tried to forcibly remove two individuals against the wishes of their community.
“With independence, the decisions that shape our future will lie with us.”
After the votes were announced, Ross praised Sturgeon as “sincerely committed to the job” but urged her not to be “spend the next five years mired in the same stale debates and disagreements that consumed and held back the last parliament”.
Calling for her to lead a government whose focus was on recovery from the pandemic, he added: “If that is the task that the SNP government applies itself to 100%, that it will find support from these benches.
“But if they deviate from that task, if they put political priorities ahead of Scotland’s interests, if they waste time in this chamber on old arguments instead of constructive delivery, then we will fight them every step of the way.”
Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, said: “Right now, we need a first minister for everyone in Scotland, not a campaigner leading a movement for half the country but a first minister who will lead a national recovery for everyone.”
He added: “The national recovery can’t just be a slogan, but it must be our parliament’s collective national mission on behalf of the people we are all elected to represent.
“So over the coming years, let’s be inspired by the future we can build, not the arguments of the past. Let’s demonstrate the best of Scotland. Let’s focus on what you unites us, not what divides us.”
Making her first speech at Holyrood, the Scottish Greens co-leader, Lorna Slater, challenged the other parties to commit to “more cross-party working on matters such as a national care service, housing, education, and tackling the climate and nature emergencies”.
She added: “I’m hoping that the first minister and everyone in this room will consider the nature of the multiple crises that we face, and will commit to working in the spirit of cooperation and constructively across party lines to make the kind of transformative changes that are needed to protect our environment, and ensure an economy that works for everyone.”
Rennie said he had “admired” Sturgeon’s leadership through the pandemic, her communication and her caution and called on her to scrap the cabinet post for the constitution in favour of one focused on recovery.
“That appointment would be a powerful signal of the priority for this parliament,” he said.