Alex Salmond today announced his resignation in the wake of the indyref defeat.

He made the announcement in a televised press conference from his official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh.

Mr Salmond said it was time for a new leader who could now take the devolution process forward and said he believed party, parliament and country would "benefit from new leadership".

He declined to name his successor, saying the party had conventions, but his deputy Nicola Sturgeon is bound to be the leading contender, especially after Yes's success in Glasgow on an otherwise downbeat night for the pro-indy campaign.

If she succeeds him, she would become Scotland's first female First Minister.

Mr Salmond said that at the age of 59, after 20 years as SNP leader and seven years as First Minister, it was time to hand over the reins.

He said: "I think that's a reasonable spell of service and I think there is an aspect that you have to understand and recognise when it is time to give someone else a chance to move that forward."

"I made the decision this morning," he added. "I believed there was great possibilities in the campaign and obviously I wouldn't have made the decision if there had been a Yes vote.

"I believe in the circumstances the vote we have, galvanising, wonderful, empowering and massive though it is, it's my judgement that someone else in the leadership would be best-placed to take that forward to the summit."

Responding to a question, Mr Salmond denied that the SNP would become more a party of Scottish affairs and interest rather than primarily a party of independence.

On his possible replacement, he said: "On the question of who is to be the new leader of the Scottish National Party, and likely therefore through parliamentary process to be next First Minister, that is a matter for the membership of the SNP. There are a number of eminently qualified and very suitable candidates. We have a strong leadership team."

He pointed to his two spells of 10 years as SNP leader, broken by a "slight pause".

"It's not exactly fly-by night in terms of the leadership spell," he said.

"At this stage, at this point, and I think this is a moment of great political opportunity, I have to make judgement as to whether I'm best placed to take that opportunity forward and I think others are.

"The party, I'm sure, will make a wise choice and take party and the country forward."

On the pledges on further powers made by the other parties, he said: "Commitments were made, vows were made in the last stages of the referendum campaign. A clear, explicit timetable was laid out. I think the opportunity for Scotland is two-fold.

"One is to hold Westminster's feet to the fire to make sure there is no slippage from that timetable.

"I'm disappointed that the idea of a second reading vote seems to have disappeared already, as well as the Labour/Conservative common front on the issue.

"But the real guardians of Scotland are not political parties at Westminster, not even the political parties at Holyrood.

"The real guardians of Scotland are the energised activists and tens of thousands of people who are now in the political process."

The First Minister told reporters that when he asked David Cameron about the plans for a vote on March 27 that were set out Gordon Brown's timetable for the further handover of powers, he was told it was a "meaningless process" because it would be overtaken by the general election.

He added: "My suspicion is, and the Prime Minister most certainly didn't tell me this aspect, that there is some doubt in the Prime Minister's mind about carrying his own backbenchers, therefore a reluctance to have a vote.

"But I think people in Scotland would be astonished and outraged, particularly those who voted No on this prospectus."

Mr Salmond said he sees "no sign of the divided country" that some critics claimed would be left behind as a result of the referendum.

"It's the Yes campaign who obviously are disappointed that we didn't win but the Yes campaign, I declare, has accepted the result and, of course are prepared and willing to engage under the Edinburgh Agreement in terms of not just accepting that result, but moving forward in the best interests of Scotland and the United Kingdom," he said.

His opponents paid tribute, if not unreservedly. Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: "Alex Salmond turned a minority party into a party of opposition into a party of government and was responsible for there being a referendum on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.

"He has undoubtedly been an immense figure in Scottish political history. I do not detract from his achievements when I say that his love of Scottish independence sometimes blinded him to its consequences.

"He should be proud of his career and not allow the manner of its ending to dominate his thinking. There is no question that Nicola Sturgeon and he were a formidable team."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "Alex Salmond has been the dominant figure in Scottish politics for the last seven years.

"No-one can dispute his political achievements, nor fail to acknowledge his political gifts. He has done the right thing in resigning. While the referendum campaign has been hugely invigorating, by its very nature it has divided too.

"His decision to step down will help our country come back together again. I am pleased that the First Minister says he will continue to serve in Scottish politics. Scotland will benefit from his experience and service as we move forward."

The Prime Minister said: "Alex is a politician of huge talent and passion. He has been an effective First Minister and always fights his corner.

"While we disagree profoundly about his goal of a separated Scotland, and many other things, I respect and admire his huge contribution to politics and public life."

Mr Darling said: "Alex Salmond is a formidable political figure. He transformed the SNP into a party of government and delivered their referendum on independence which they had craved so long.

"Today he has accepted Scotland's verdict, recognising that it is for others in his party to take the SNP forward.

"He has rightly said that the referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime event and that we all need to work to bring Scotland together.

"He can look back with pride on being the longest-serving First Minister and to the huge contribution he has made to public life in Scotland. I wish him well in the future."

Mr Wilson said: "Alex Salmond fought a brilliant referendum campaign.

"It is not his fault that the Scottish people did not vote for independence on this occasion.

"The winning of 45% of the vote in the Scottish independence referendum is a superlative achievement.

"It is a mark of Alex's integrity that he has taken personal responsibility. He is undoubtedly the greatest Scottish politician of his generation.

"He has led the SNP with distinction over a 20-year period and made a tremendous contribution. I am vexed that he has felt it necessary to offer his resignation.

"From personal experience, I know just how exhausting the responsibilities of leadership are and Alex had to carry also the responsibilities of First Minister of the Scottish Government.

"To form that government and win a majority is his major achievement in a formidable political career. I wish him and his wife, Moira a long and happy retirement."

The full statement by Alex Salmond

"I am immensely proud of the campaign which Yes Scotland fought and of the 1.6 million voters who rallied to that cause by backing an independent Scotland.

"I am also proud of the 85% turnout in the referendum and the remarkable response of all of the people of Scotland who participated in this great constitutional debate and the manner in which they conducted themselves.

"We now have the opportunity to hold Westminster's feet to the fire on the 'vow' that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland. This places Scotland in a very strong position.

"I spoke to the Prime Minister today and, although he reiterated his intention to proceed as he has outlined, he would not commit to a second reading vote by March 27 on a Scotland Bill. That was a clear promise laid out by Gordon Brown during the campaign. The Prime Minister says such a vote would be meaningless. I suspect he cannot guarantee the support of his party.

"But today the point is this. The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows.

"For me right now , therefore there is a decision as to who is best placed to lead this process forward politically.

"I believe that in this new exciting situation, redolent with possibility, Party, Parliament and country would benefit from new leadership.

"Therefore I have told the National Secretary of the SNP that I will not accept nomination to be a candidate for leader at the Annual Conference in Perth on November 13-15.

"After the membership ballot I will stand down as First Minister to allow the new leader to be elected by due Parliamentary process.

"Until then I will continue to serve as First Minister. After that I will continue to offer to serve as Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeenshire East.

"It has been the privilege of my life to serve Scotland as First Minister. But as I said often during the referendum campaign this is not about me or the SNP. It is much more important than that.

"The position is this. We lost the referendum vote but can still carry the political initiative. More importantly Scotland can still emerge as the real winner."