ALEX Salmond is to step down as First Minister in the wake of the nationalists' defeat in the independence referendum.

The SNP leader stunned the political world by deciding to resign within hours of failing to realise his dream of leading Scotland to independence.

Scotland's longest-serving First Minister, who has held the post for seven years, will step aside in November.

The Queen said Scotland's vote to stay in the Union was "a result that all of us throughout the United Kingdom will respect".

Feelings over the result were running high in Glasgow city centre last night as running clashes took place between Union flag-waving groups of people and nationalist supporters.

The main flashpoint was in George Square and around Queen Street, where dozens of police officers attempted to keep the opposing factions apart. There were at least three arrests but police said they were confident of containing the flashpoints.

Making the dramatic announcement that he would step down at Bute House in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond said: "The last seven years have been the privilege of my life but I think that is a reasonable spell of service.

"I have to recognise it's time to give someone else a chance."

Referring to the Yes campaign's defeat in the referendum, which it lost by a margin of 55 to 45 per cent, he said he had established a "base camp not far from the summit".

But vowing to fight on for independence, he added: "My time as leader is nearly over, but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."

A new SNP leader will be chosen at the party's annual conference in two months' time and, a week later, will become the country's fifth First Minister since devolution.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister and deputy SNP leader, is the clear favourite to succeed Mr Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon said she could think of no greater privilege than to take the top job but insisted the decision was "not for today".

Paying tribute to her "mentor", she added: "Alex Salmond's achievements as SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister are second to none."

Others who may be tempted to stand include Derek Mackay, the local government minister, and Humza Yousaf, the minister for external affairs.

Mr Salmond said a new leader was required to seize opportunities created by the referendum.

He said they would harness new grassroots political activism that emerged during the campaign and "hold Westminster's feet to the fire" over promised new powers for Holyrood.

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to consider introducing "English votes for English laws" at Westminster while Labour leader Ed Miliband unveiled a rival plan to hold a UK-wide consitutional convention to consider UK-wide reforms.

But Mr Salmond accused the Prime Minister of going back on a pledge to vote on more powers for Holyrood by the end of next March.

Conservative sources denied plans to stage a second reading of a new Scotland Bill by March 27 had ever been agreed between the parties.

But Mr Salmond said: "I do not believe the Prime Minister and Mr Miliband understand how people will feel if these commitments and this timetable are not followed to the letter."

He said the promise of more powers for Holyrood had been instrumental in the Yes campaign's defeat.

Mr Salmond, 59, who has led the SNP for 20 out of the past 24 years, said he wished to continue as MSP for Aberdeenshire East. As he flew by helicopter home to Strichen, Aberdeenshire, with his wife Moira, Mr Salmond thanked his supporters for their "kind messages of support".

Mr Cameron praised Mr Salmond's "huge talent and passion".

Better Together campaign leader Alistair Darling said he was a formidable political figure.

Mr Miliband said: "Whatever our disagreements, he has always spoken his mind and he has always stood up for what he believed in."

Commenting on the outcome of the referendum yesterday, the Queen said: "Knowing the people of Scotland as I do, I have no doubt that Scots, like others throughout the United Kingdom, are able to express strongly held opinions before coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect and support."