First Minister

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th May 2016.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item of business is the selection of the Parliament’s nominee as First Minister. A note explaining the procedures that are to be followed this afternoon has been placed on each member’s desk. I have received two valid nominations for selection of the Parliament’s nominee as First Minister; they are, in alphabetical order, Willie Rennie and Nicola Sturgeon.

I will ask each nominee to speak in support of their candidacy, for up to five minutes. After the nominees have spoken, members will be asked to cast their vote for their preferred candidate. A separate vote will be called for each candidate, and members can vote only once. Once all voting has been completed, any member who has not voted will be invited to cast a vote to abstain. There will be a short break of a few minutes while the result is verified. I will then announce the results of voting.

A candidate will be elected if a simple majority is obtained. Therefore, no account will be taken of any votes to abstain in establishing whether a simple majority has been achieved. Members should ensure that their cards are inserted correctly in their consoles.

I call Willie Rennie.

The Presiding Officer:

I call Nicola Sturgeon.

Thank you. We now move to voting.

I remind members that they must vote once only and must use their yes button. If any member records a vote more than once or records a vote other than a yes vote, their vote will be treated as spoiled. Once the voting for candidates is completed, members who have not voted for a candidate will then be given the opportunity to vote to abstain by pressing their yes button. I will announce the result once all the votes have been cast and verified.

The first vote is for Willie Rennie. Members who wish to cast their vote for Willie Rennie should vote yes now.

Members voted.

That concludes the votes for candidates. There will be another short pause while we print the vote.

Thank you. The next vote is for any members who have not yet voted and who wish to record an abstention. Members who wish to abstain should press their yes button now—not the abstain button.

Members voted.

As the result is valid, and as Nicola Sturgeon has received more votes than the total number of votes for the other candidate, I declare that Nicola Sturgeon is selected as the Parliament’s nominee for appointment as First Minister. As required by the Scotland Act 1998, I shall now recommend to Her Majesty that she appoint Nicola Sturgeon as the First Minister. [



I offer my congratulations to you, Ms Sturgeon, as the new First Minister.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I offer my congratulations, and those of my party, to the First Minister on her election today. As I said on the day after the election result, it is a significant achievement to win three elections in a row. If nothing else, it presents a test of stamina for the Government and for the First Minister as she gets back to work. I wish her, her family and her wider support network well in meeting that challenge.

I also salute Willie Rennie for offering himself up as this afternoon’s willing human sacrifice. Like my own attempt to persuade Parliament to hand me the job of First Minister 18 months ago, Willie’s bid for the summit has fallen just short. The challenge itself helps to demonstrate a serious and key point: it is this Parliament that approves who is the First Minister of Scotland and it is this Parliament to which the First Minister is accountable. Perhaps that is something that we need to be reminded of, given the last five years of majority rule—a period that saw a Government repeatedly exercising its executive power to the detriment of the authority of this institution. Now, with a new minority Government, I hope that we can look forward to five years when the Parliament is once again able to demonstrate its authority, its oversight and its challenge.

There has been a lot of talk about mandates in the days following the election and, again, from the First Minister today. The truth is that it is this Parliament that holds the real, unchallenged mandate: to decide on our First Minister, on our cabinet secretaries and the ministerial team, and—once that is done—to scrutinise their decisions, their actions and the legislative programme that they bring forth.

To question and to challenge, to argue and offer alternatives, and to promote better governance in this place, not for its own sake but for the people of Scotland—that is the task that I and my team dedicate ourselves to today.

Unlike Mr Rennie, I chose not to stand against the First Minister—that was by design. As some of you may have noticed during the election campaign, we asked for votes not to form a Government but rather to form the strong Opposition that the Parliament and this country so desperately require. Now that we have been returned, that is the job that we are determined to fulfil over the coming five years.

We will engage with the people and the institutions of Scotland to listen to their concerns. In Parliament and in committee, we will provide the challenge required to ensure better law. We will use the job of opposition to provide real alternatives for the Scottish Government to consider, and the debate over those alternatives needs to start immediately.

We know, from the election campaign, the scale of the challenges that we face. We see unemployment on the rise—up 20,000 in the first part of this year and now above rates in the rest of the United Kingdom. We hear warnings from business figures saying that our economy is on a knife edge. We see school results going backwards and cuts to colleges meaning fewer places to train and to retrain for the world of work.

It is now this Parliament that will hold sway, more than ever before, over how the country moves forward. The new tax powers that are coming here over the coming months mean that we are about to embark on a new chapter of devolution. For the Conservatives’ part, we intend to bring not just principle to the debate but evidence and expertise—that is the least that people expect of us.

Where there is consensus or common cause, we will work with others. Where there is difference, I pledge always to be a positive Opposition, providing challenge—yes—but alternatives, too. Out of the fire of honest and principled differences, we will bring debate back into the public discourse, creating a stronger Parliament, demanding a better Government and building a more positive future for Scotland, the country that each of us here loves and serves. [



Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

There is more that unites us than divides us across this chamber, and today every party in this place will wish Nicola Sturgeon well and offer her congratulations as she begins a fresh term as First Minister.

It is the votes of MSPs in this chamber that officially nominate her again for the office and title of First Minister of Scotland, but it is the votes of the people of Scotland that have really put her there.

Nicola Sturgeon will be acutely aware of the responsibility on her shoulders. She is the leader of the first Scottish Government to achieve three terms in office and she is the most powerful First Minister that this country has ever seen. With the mandate that the people have given her, I hope that she uses it to be bold. I hope that she has the courage to change course: to use her power to challenge vested interests, to stand up for the majority and to do everything that she can to make Scotland a country where a person’s destiny in life is determined not by their postcode but by their potential.

In the election, the Scottish people have delivered a result that has matched a strong Scottish Government with a strong Scottish Parliament to keep it in check. The people have changed the balance of power in the Parliament and they have deprived the Government of a majority. That means that there is an even greater responsibility on the First Minister to build consensus and to reach out to parties that represent the wide and varied interests of people across Scotland. Each time she reaches out, she will be faced with a choice—a fork in the road. She can look to the left, where she will find allies in progressive parties, who believe in the power of Government to transform lives, or she can look right to conservative forces, who ask Government to do less and cut more. I hope and expect the First Minister to use her mandate to be radical and progressive, and to use all the powers that are available to change the lives of the people who live in our great country.

In navigating minority government, the First Minister might want to take a leaf out of the book of her predecessor, when he said:

“The Parliament will be one in which the Scottish Government relies on the merits of its legislation, not the might of a parliamentary majority.”—[

Official Report

, 16 May 2007; c 24.]

For my part, I will take some advice from one of my predecessors—Donald Dewar. When he was nominated as First Minister, he said:

“We are indeed a country with a past. The past has shaped us, but our task now is to shape the future.”—[

Official Report

, 13 May 1999; c 19.]

Since Donald was First Minister, we have written new chapters in Scotland’s story. We have seen the parties in power change, our Parliament has come of age, and we have had a referendum that has changed the face of our nation for ever, so whatever roads we may choose to go down in the future, this Parliament cannot be a prisoner of the past. We have to take the best of what we have learned and use it to take our country forward. Our job, as at the birth of this Parliament, is to shape the future.

Therefore, let us be inspired rather than bound by our past. For the next five years, this chamber should echo with the same energy and passion that we saw in 2014; it should be fuelled by the same hope and expectation that people who voted yes and people who voted no felt when they voted; and it should not just be the place where we debate the kind of society that we want to build, but the place where we lay its foundations. That is a responsibility that we all carry. [



The Presiding Officer:

There will be a short pause while we print the vote.

Thank you. The next vote is for Nicola Sturgeon. Members who wish to cast their vote for Nicola Sturgeon should vote yes now.

Members voted.

That concludes this round of voting. There will now be a break, not just to print the votes but to verify them, so it will be a few minutes longer.

In the vote to select the Parliament’s nominee for First Minister, the total number of votes cast was 127. The number of votes cast for each candidate was: Willie Rennie 5, Nicola Sturgeon 63, Abstentions 59. There were no spoiled votes.

Votes for Willie Rennie

Division number 1 First Minister

Aye: 5 MSPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Votes for Nicola Sturgeon

Division number 2 First Minister

Aye: 63 MSPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Division number 3 First Minister

Abstained: 59 MSPs

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I offer my congratulations and those of the Scottish Green Party to Nicola Sturgeon on her re-election as First Minister, and I express a little bit of relief on your behalf, Presiding Officer.

The first time the Parliament met to choose a First Minister, the process was interrupted by no fewer than eight points of order from members who showed various levels of brass neck. Some of them were made by members who are still with us—Fergus Ewing and Mike Russell—and there were a couple from the late Phil Gallie. Others were made by former members Dennis Canavan and Ben Wallace and—here are a couple of obscure names—Tommy Sheridan and Alex Salmond. Someone should look those people up to find out what they are up to these days. I am very grateful that you have been spared that level of chaos, Presiding Officer.

Just a few days after that exchange, in what I think was her first speech in the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon said:

“we, as members of the first Scottish Parliament, must be guided by the principles that guided the consultative steering group. That group envisaged an open, accessible Parliament in which power would be shared between the Parliament, the Executive and the Scottish people”.—[

Official Report

, 19 May 1999; c 113.]

I hope that this session, with a second minority Government, might be a chance to recapture that spirit. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon was quoted yesterday as intending to

“lead a government that seeks to win votes, not simply by the force of our numbers, but by the strength of our arguments”.

That was very reminiscent of a speech by Alex Salmond on taking office in 2007—though how quickly the intention was forgotten once the SNP no longer required the parliamentary numbers.

In truth, minority government sometimes worked well and sometimes less so, but at its best it was an opportunity for creative thinking and for the broadest range of ideas to come forward without being shot down by parliamentary arithmetic alone.

Green influence in session 3 included some successes that are still with us, such as the climate challenge fund, which has enabled hundreds of communities across the country to put their own ideas into practice to reduce their environmental impact while building a stronger community and addressing related challenges such as fuel poverty and a dysfunctional corporate food chain. However, despite our strenuous efforts in that session, there was less success on the energy efficiency agenda, which continues to this day to experience budget cuts.

On a number of issues, the challenges that we face today clearly require the combined effort and creativity of MSPs working across party lines. The case for progressive taxation to protect our public services is strong. This Scottish Government will have the responsibility, but also for the first time much greater power, to protect Scotland from the impact of austerity economics and the UK Government’s continued destruction of the welfare state. The First Minister must resolutely ignore the increased number of cheerleaders for that vandalism, and she must be clear, in seeking the Parliament’s support for her budgets, that she should look to those who oppose austerity, not to its advocates.

On climate targets, the Government has—even though, during the election campaign, some SNP candidates appeared to be in outright denial of the fact—so far missed all four climate targets. Now, with a promise of new, even higher targets, the Government has a chance to raise its game to match the increased ambition that was expressed in the Paris agreement. What must absolutely be avoided is a repeat of the Climate Change (Scotland) 2009 Act, in which targets were agreed without the clear and radical programme of action that was necessary to meet them.

On parliamentary reform, all of us, in attempting to recapture the spirit of an inclusive Parliament, will have a role to play. I am convinced that, in this generation—the most networked generation that there has ever been—we can create new opportunities for public participation in our work that can add to the quality and depth of our scrutiny. The past few years have shown that, when it matters and when involvement in the political process is meaningful, the appetite for it is strong.

I offer Nicola Sturgeon the good wishes of the Scottish Green party as she approaches the work ahead. We have always tried to be constructive where we can be and challenging where we must be. It is an approach that has achieved results in the past, and we look forward to the opportunities that will arise in the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament. [



Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I congratulate Nicola Sturgeon on her personal and political achievement today. It is significant that she has secured the position of First Minister for the second time, this time with her own mandate. Her family, who are up in the gallery, will be proud of her, and so they should be.

I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to two of my former colleagues who were not re-elected. Jim Hume and Alison McInnes were great servants of my party and this Parliament. [


.] Thank you very much.

I am sure that Nicola Sturgeon will mark the loss of eight of her SNP colleagues who were not re-elected. I pay tribute in particular to my predecessor in North East Fife, Rod Campbell, who was graceful and generous at the count and afterwards. I know many people in the constituency who were grateful for his advice and support.

This Parliament presents us with many opportunities. All members in the chamber have a responsibility to do things better so that we can make Scotland a better country. Because we are all minorities, we need to hunt for agreement with others. Of course, there will be times when we oppose. If we strongly disagree, we will strongly oppose, but it will be based on principle and belief. We will not hunt for those differences, and SNP members should avoid a knee-jerk reaction to any opposition to their plans. If SNP members seek to portray any defeat of the Government as a Conservative alliance, they can surely expect similar portrayals of any time that the SNP and the Conservatives vote the same way. It may be the case that to secure a majority on, say, tax or fracking, as well as other issues, the SNP will need Conservative support. [


.] I am pleased to hear those members; that is a good indication of the policy that might come.

I was pleased that Nicola Sturgeon did not include independence in her remarks. That was wise, because we should respect the result of the referendum and focus on the challenges that our country faces and the ambition that we should have to make our country the best again.

I have already set out the changes that we need in mental health service provision: in primary care, emergency services and child and adolescent services. We have a lot of work to do, as the share spent on mental health has fallen in each of the past few years. The Government’s mental health strategy expired last December and the failure to renew it means that tens of millions of pounds of funding remain unallocated this year. That has real consequences. A young constituent had to wait for months for urgent treatment; another self-harming teenager waited for a year to see a consultant; and, after a debate on the subject, a mother told me that for weeks she had been on the phone every day, sometimes all day, in order to get help for her son. When 673,000 working days are lost every year in Scottish businesses as a result of depression, the First Minister needs to make the issue a priority.

Early education is another top priority for the Liberal Democrats. I will work in partnership with Nicola Sturgeon to deliver an expansion of early years provision, especially as the SNP Government has struggled to roll out what has already been promised.

Nicola Sturgeon can count on our support when she brings forward plans to boost mental health services so that they are treated on a par with those for physical illness. We will support plans to exceed climate change targets. We will be with her when she guarantees to ditch the intrusive super-ID database, injects local democratic oversight into the police and agrees to push power down into communities rather than centralising it at Holyrood. She can count on our support when she brings forward plans to make a transformational investment in education for nurseries, schools and colleges, with a penny on income tax.

Let us now get on with the job that we were elected to do. [



Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Thank you for your kind words, Presiding Officer. I also take the opportunity to thank all the other party leaders for their contributions today and for their words of support. I deeply appreciate all of them.

I thank my fellow members of Parliament for selecting me as Parliament’s nominee to be the next First Minister of Scotland. There is quite simply no greater privilege than to be elected to serve as the First Minister of our country. I pledge that, for each and every day that I hold this office, I will strive to fulfil the duties that are placed on me to the very best of my ability, and I promise to use all the powers that this office places in my hands to make our country an even better place to live.

It means a great deal to me to be joined here today by my family. I take the opportunity to thank them, especially my husband, my parents and my sister, for the unwavering support that they give me. I know that I do not tell them often enough—I suspect that they would say that I do not tell them at all—but I simply could not do the job that I do without their support, and I want them to know how grateful I am for it.

I say a special thank you to my niece and nephews, who are here today. Each of them has what I can only describe as a unique ability to keep my feet firmly on the ground and remind me of what really matters in life.

Presiding Officer, this is a Parliament of new beginnings. I lead a third-term SNP Government, but I am a First Minister who has been elected for the first time in my own right. More than a third of MSPs are new to the chamber, which gives Parliament a renewed sense of energy and a fresher feel than at any time since 1999. We have a new principal party of opposition, perhaps making the choice of the kind of country that we want to be sharper than it has been before.

We are a Parliament that is preparing to assume important new powers over tax and social security as the country takes the next steps on our journey of self-government.

With new beginnings come new and higher expectations. It is the duty of each and every one of us to live up to those expectations.

Of course, we represent different political parties for a reason. We each want what is best for Scotland, but we have different ideas—sometimes very different ideas—about how to achieve that. We should not seek to mask those differences. At its best, politics will always be a creative battle of ideas.

Just as importantly, we should not allow our differences to obscure the areas of agreement that exist between us. I hope that the current session of Parliament will see us expend as much effort on finding common ground as we do on debating the differences. That will not always lead to unanimity; perhaps it will do so rarely, but we must be prepared to reach out beyond our party boundaries to build alliances across the chamber and in the country as a whole for the common good. As First Minister, I recognise my duty to lead by example.

On 5 May, the people of Scotland gave me a clear mandate to govern but also an instruction to do so inclusively. That verdict of the people will determine the tone and substance of my Government. I will lead a Government that does not seek to win votes simply by the force of our numbers but does so by the strength of our arguments, and by the support that we are able to build for our policies in the country as a whole. When we make mistakes, as all Governments do—we will make strenuous efforts not to—we will try to have the courage and humility to face up to them and to put them right. We will not assume a monopoly of wisdom; good ideas exist across the chamber and I promise that we will always seek to judge ideas on their merit rather than on their party of origin. That is the open, inclusive and outward-looking approach to government that I will endeavour to take. If it is matched by Opposition parties determined to be robust but constructive in how they discharge their duties, it can make a real difference to how we do business in the chamber and, ultimately, to how well we serve the people of Scotland.

Of course, in seeking to make common cause, we will be guided by principle and by the manifesto on which we were elected. We are a left-of-centre social democratic Government, so the alliances that we seek to build will be progressive. We stand for an economy that is founded on inclusive growth, fair work and fair tax. We stand for strong public services. We stand for universal services, such as free prescriptions and free education, and for a social security system that has dignity at its heart. We stand for human rights and trade union rights. We stand for fair and transparent land ownership. We stand strong in our determination to protect our environment for the generations that will come after us. Above all, we stand for a society that offers opportunity for all.

As I accept the nomination for First Minister today, the promise that I am making to the country and, indeed, to myself, is that I will do everything that I can to ensure that this moment in our history marks the beginning of a new age of national self-confidence—confidence in our strength, our wealth and our potential as a country but, more than that, confidence that ours is a country where opportunity can flourish for everyone who is lucky enough to live here and confidence that, wherever someone is born and whatever their gender or family background, they will have the opportunity to make the most of their talent and fulfil their potential. That is why education is so firmly at the heart of everything that my Government will aspire to do. Transforming early years education, raising standards in our schools, and ensuring access to the opportunities that come after school will not just be the hallmarks of my Government and the issues on which we ask to be judged; they are the foundation of the kind of society that I want us to build. They will be the building blocks of our new age of self-confidence.

I have no desire to be First Minister for its own sake. I want to use the opportunity that I have as First Minister to change this country for the better. My passionate and lifelong belief that Scotland should be independent is well known and enduring. A majority of MSPs are from parties that support independence, but we know that Scotland will become independent only if and when a majority of the people are persuaded.

I also know that my job as First Minister now and at all times is to govern for all the people of our country. That is what I pledge to do.

Two weeks ago, I asked for a personal mandate as First Minister and I was given one. The people of Scotland have put their trust in me to lead. My task now is to repay that trust, to take tough decisions knowing that I might not always get them right, and to lead a Government with purpose—a Government that is bold, ambitious and creative.

I know that the next five years will throw up challenges aplenty. There will be ups and there will be downs. I will work every day to ensure that there are many more of the former than there are of the latter, and I will strive to meet whatever comes my way with strength and with courage—and always, I hope, with a positive outlook.

What I know beyond doubt is that I will be inspired and sustained each day by the support of my family and my colleagues and by an unshakeable belief in the potential of our country and the people who live here.

Presiding Officer, like many of us, you were present in the chamber when it was officially opened in 2004. On that day, Liz Lochhead, who would become Scotland’s second makar, read a poem written by the late Edwin Morgan, our first makar. The poem closes with these words of wisdom. They are words penned by a makar on behalf of the people—words that every man and woman elected to serve in the Parliament now and in the years to come should carry in their hearts.

“We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.

We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we have no mandate to be so bold.

We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.

So now begin. Open the doors and begin.”

This Parliament, with its new powers and responsibilities, its new members and its newly elected First Minister, has a renewed mandate to be bold, so let us approach the next five years with a passion for hard work, a sense of great hope and a determination not just to live up to but to exceed the expectations of the people we serve. That is what I will strive to do each and every day, so now let us begin. [



Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

“Oh, dad. You’re not, are you?” Those were the encouraging words from my unimpressed 12-year-old son when he heard on the radio this morning that I was standing for First Minister. I told Stephen that I was inspired by a woman nationalist leader who stood up against the odds—but unlike Leanne Wood I will not be relying on UK Independence Party votes today.

This is the first time that I have stood for First Minister in this Parliament. I did not stand in 2011 or 2014 because the Scottish National Party had a majority then. No longer—it has lost that majority. In part, I am standing today to make that point. We are all minorities here. No manifesto commanded the support of a majority, so we all need partners to win votes. We are all equal in that respect.

Whoever becomes First Minister today cannot compel this chamber to agree to their demands. Whoever wins the vote will need to work hard to persuade others to back any proposal. I want this Parliament to make Scotland the best again, so that everyone can have the opportunity to succeed no matter what their background; where people can live as they wish as long as it does not harm others; and where we pass on the planet in a better state than we found it.

The next five years must deliver a step change in mental health services so that they are treated on a par with those for physical illness. I propose that extra resources be directed to primary care so that mental health professionals can work alongside general practitioners; for work in accident and emergency and in partnership with the police; and for extra capacity in child and adolescent services.

The next five years must deliver policies that will enable us to exceed our climate change targets. I propose a warm homes act, low-carbon transport and no opencast coal so that we can deliver real change. Cutting air passenger duty by 50 per cent will not help. That will cut funds for public services and cause damage to the environment, so I am not proposing that cut. Fracking will not help, either. That is where the SNP must remember that its rhetoric about the Tories may come back to haunt it. The SNP may have to rely on the Conservatives for a majority from time to time.

We should use the next five years to make Scottish education the best in the world again. I propose a £500 million transformational investment so that we can deliver extra resources for nurseries, schools and colleges to get our education back up the international rankings. We have already persuaded the SNP of the merits of a pupil premium to get extra support to children who need it, no matter where they live in the country. Now we need a change of heart from the SNP on the use of tax powers so that we can make that big investment—or will the SNP look to the Conservatives to help it to block that investment?

The next five years should be used to guarantee our civil liberties. There should be no return to armed police on routine duties or industrial-scale stop and search, and we need to kill off the much-delayed but still possible intrusive super-ID database. I propose bringing back local democratic oversight of the police.

I am positive about the Liberal Democrat agenda for the Parliament; I am positive about our ability to bring people together; and I am even more positive about our chances of winning today. There are signs of change—important signs that the momentum is with me. I do not want to upset Joe FitzPatrick, but some of his members are indicating that they may cast a vote for me. Mark McDonald smiled at me in the garden lobby just last week; Jamie Hepburn shook my hand; and everyone knows about the special understanding that I have with Bob Doris. [



With those positive signs, I will leave it to members to choose the best programme and the best person to lead the Scottish Government for the next five years.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

I begin by thanking Willie Rennie for his candidacy. I was delighted to hear that I start today with the full support of Willie Rennie’s son. As Willie Rennie provided some of what I can only describe as the most colourful imagery of the election campaign, it is only right that we heard from him today.

Willie Rennie and I chatted earlier about what we might do if the vote ended up in a tie. We decided that we would settle matters with a race down a giant inflatable slide—that is an incentive to ensure that it does not happen.

Seriously, if I am elected today as the Parliament’s nominee for First Minister, I will look forward very much to working with Willie Rennie and, indeed, colleagues across the chamber as, collectively over the next five years, we confront the challenges and harness the massive opportunities that our country has.

Today, I am asking MSPs across the chamber to support my nomination for First Minister. Since Parliament first elected me to that position back in the autumn of 2014, I have worked hard to repay that support. Eighteen months on, I am a little bit older and a lot wiser. The experience of being First Minister has made me more acutely aware of the challenges that our nation faces, but even more aware of our vast potential. The challenge for me and for all of us is to harness that potential for the good of our country and those of us who are lucky enough to live here.

During the election campaign, I said that closing the attainment gap in education would be the defining mission of a Scottish Government that is led by me. I look forward to working across the chamber to ensure that that is the mission of not just Government, but Parliament as a whole.

The economy and jobs will also be at the top of my list of priorities—that is reflected in my intention to create a new dedicated cabinet secretary post with responsibility for the economy.

With new powers coming to this Parliament, the responsibility placed on us and, in particular, on the First Minister is greater than ever before, but that is a responsibility that I am ready and eager to seize with both hands.

During the election campaign I described the SNP manifesto as my application for the job of First Minister, and the election allowed the people of Scotland to deliver their verdict. The SNP increased its constituency vote share, we won a record number of constituency seats, and we became the first party in the devolution era to secure more than 1 million constituency votes, so there is no doubt that the SNP has a mandate to govern and that I have a mandate to continue as the First Minister of our country. I hope that Parliament will recognise that clear mandate today.

I have also made clear my intention to lead an inclusive Government. Being an inclusive, open and outward-looking Government is, of course, about much more than what happens here in this parliamentary chamber, but there is no doubt that it starts here in this chamber. I have already made suggestions to strengthen Parliament’s scrutiny of the First Minister. I would like to see more time allocated to the weekly session of First Minister’s question time to ensure that back benchers are given more opportunity to ask questions. As First Minister, I would welcome the opportunity—“welcome” is perhaps not the right word; I would embrace the opportunity—to appear more often before the Parliament’s committee conveners. The proposals might in themselves be relatively minor, but I hope that they serve as an indication of the tone that I want to set in the Scottish Parliament’s fifth session.

I firmly and passionately believe that there should be no limit to our ambitions for our national Parliament or our nation. If I am successful today, the First Minister’s door will always be open to people across and outside the chamber with constructive ideas to make Scotland the prosperous, fair country that we all know that it can be. I will work every day to serve this country to the very best of my ability.