Mr Salmond’s achievement in leading the SNP to 69 seats and majority Government for the first time in Scottish politics in May’s poll was celebrated at the glittering ceremony attended by leading politicians and other dignitaries at Prestonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh.
For the first time in the history of the prize-giving, which began in 1999, there was no short list for the top award as all three main Opposition leaders at Holyrood announced they were stepping down.
The Nationalists’ success has not only dominated the political scene in Scotland, it has pushed constitutional change and the prospect of an independence referendum high up the agenda across the UK.
Herald & Times Group Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Russell, presenting the award to Mr Salmond six months after the First Minister gave the first speech of his second term outside the venue, said: "The SNP’s overwhelming victory in May handed Alex Salmond more unchecked power than any of his three predecessors as First Minister were able to enjoy in their reigns as leaders of a coalition administration.
"But, while I’m sure Mr Salmond and his supporters will take huge satisfaction from the overwhelming mandate the Scottish people have given his party, I’m equally certain he’s aware of the importance of a strong opposition in any democracy.
"He and his party provided it for eight years -- and the Scottish Parliament was a far more interesting and robust forum for debate because of it. Now it is up to the other parties to do likewise."
Mr Russell added: "The Herald has always supported devolution but been opposed to independence. This is not because we are opposed to independence per se, it’s because the case for it has not yet been proven. Like many Scots, we are prepared to be persuaded on the matter. But we need to be persuaded with facts and knowledge, not by pulling at emotional heartstrings."
Receiving his award, Mr Salmond praised his team for helping get the SNP re-elected.
He added: "Teamwork is perhaps the most important thing of all, in achieving political success, for a party, a country, a people.
"I’m privileged to lead such a strong team and I’m honoured to be elected First Minister and I’m delighted to receive this award."
Deputy First Minister and Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon won her third Donald Dewar Debater of the Year award. She was praised for her tenacious pursuit of minimum alcohol pricing and the all-round excellence of her contributions in the Chamber.
Completing a hat-trick of top awards for the SNP, the mastermind of May’s victory, the party’s campaign director, Angus Robertson, earned the accolade Best Scot at Westminster, sponsored by ScottishPower Renewables. He was up against Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander and Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander.
There was also a double recognition for the Conservatives involved in the recent leadership battle. Winning the post of Scottish Conservative leader earned Ruth Davidson the award of Newcomer of the Year, from a strong field that included Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, Labour’s Jenny Marra and Graeme Pearson, and Humza Yousaf of the SNP.
Ms Davidson said: "It’s been a big week in a big year. I’m not sure how it’s going to go now."
For his ultimately unsuccessful bid to abolish the Scottish Tories and launch a new centre-right party, Murdo Fraser won the award for Political Impact of the Year.
This year’s award for Local Government Politician of the year, sponsored by Improvement Service and Robertson Group, was won by the leader of Highland Council, LibDem councillor Michael Foxley, for his campaigning on issues such as the threat to coastguard stations and emergency tugs and for reform of the Crown Estate.
The successful fight to save Lossiemouth won the award for Public Campaign of the Year, over rival battles to save rural schools in Argyll and the bid to prevent the closure of coastguard stations.
There was also a special posthumous award for lawyer Frank Maguire, recognising his work for lawyers Thompsons for trade union issues, damages, workers’ rights and above all on behalf of those suffering from asbestos-related disease. His widow Fiona accepted the accolade.
There were not one but two Lifetime Achievement Awards this year. Labour MP Gordon Brown was honoured for the towering achievements that saw him rise from campaigning student rector at Edinburgh University to Westminster in 1983 to become Chancellor and Prime Minister.
The other award recognised the contribution of the former Scottish political editor of Press Association, Joe Quinn, a key and highly respected figure for a generation, who retired last year.
BEST SCOT AT WESTMINSTER
Sponsored by ScottishPower Renewables
Angus Robertson (SNP)
DONALD DEWAR DEBATER OF THE YEAR
Sponsored by Carillion Energy Services
Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Ruth Davidson (Con)
LOCAL GOVERNMENT POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR
Sponsored by Improvement Service and Robertson Group
Michael Foxley (LibDem Highland)
PUBLIC CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR
Frank Maguire, lawyer and campaigner (posthumous award)
POLITICAL IMPACT OF THE YEAR
Murdo Fraser (Con)
Sponsored by Scottish Gas
Gordon Brown (Lab)
Joe Quinn, former Scottish Political Editor of Press Association
SCOTTISH POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR
Presented by The Herald
Alex Salmond (SNP)
The sponsors ... in their opinion
"Scottish Gas was again delighted to have supported the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards for 2011. This important event marks the hard work and dedication to Scottish life by politicians of all parties. This year we were particularly pleased to have sponsored the Lifetime Achievement award which went to Gordon Brown in deserved recognition of his substantial contribution to Scottish politics across the years."
"The Improvement Service and Robertson would like to congratulate Michael Foxley
on being named Local
Politician of the Year. In a tough economic climate, Michael has shown leadership in dealing with the challenges presented and dedication to the communities he serves. He is a worthy winner."
Carillion (sponsor of Debater of the Year)
Ron Fraser, Business Development Director: "Last night we recognised and celebrated our most talented and engaging debaters -- those who can put the key issues of the day at the heart of the political agenda. As a business committed to promoting greater sustainability it is encouraging to see rigorous and penetrating debate in Scotland so clearly focused on delivering sustainable solutions."
Keith Anderson CEO: "These awards are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Scottish political calendar and ScottishPower Renewables is delighted to recognise the achievements of all those who were nominated. Meeting our renewables and climate change targets requires co-operation across the parties and across the parliaments, so we were particularly pleased this year to sponsor the Best Scot at Westminster Award."