SUCH was Alex Salmond's longevity in the office, most of today's MSPs have never witnessed the strange Holyrood ritual of electing a new First Minister.

Under the rules, a vote is required before parliament can nominate Scotland's top politician for appointment by the Queen. The result is never in doubt but the leader-in-waiting invariably faces a doomed challenge.

No-hopers who have thrown their hat in the ring in years gone by include former Greens leader Robin Harper and Denis Canavan, who as an Independent MSP won three votes when he opposed Henry McLeish.

Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson reminded MSPs of this as she boldly put herself forward.

"I'm realistic about my prospects of being First Minister," she admitted. "At least for now."

Nicola Sturgeon duly triumphed after much patient explanation of the voting system by Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick.

It is a formality with the odd effect of making the occasion informal. But that's how history is made in the Scottish parliament. And yesterday, the jaunty mood did not obscure a real sense of history around Ms Sturgeon's election.

She used her acceptance to try to reassure opponents her administration would be more than just a vehicle for constitutional campaigning.

But she dwelled longest on her achievement of becoming the first woman to lead the Scottish Government.

Her election showed "the sky's the limit" for women and girls across the country, she told MSPs before adding: "But it is what I do as First Minister that will matter more - much more - than the example I set by simply holding the office."

Looking up towards her niece Harriet Owens, eight, in the VIP gallery, she added: "She doesn't yet know about the gender pay gap or under-representation or the barriers, like high childcare costs, that make it so hard for so many women to work and pursue careers.

"My fervent hope is that she never will; that by the time she is a young woman, she will have no need to know about any of these issues because they will have been consigned to history.

"If, during my tenure as First Minister, I can play a part in making that so, for my niece and for every other little girl in this country, I will be very happy indeed."

Ms Sturgeon - whose election marks the culmination of a career dominated by politics since she joined the SNP at 16 - was warmly applauded by her opponents.

Labour's Jackie Baillie said: "Nicola Sturgeon's place in Scottish political history is of course assured, being the first woman to hold her post.

"While there is no doubting this is a symbolic moment, what she does really matters far more. I sincerely hope she will use her position to promote the role of women in public life by making positive steps towards gender balance."

Ms Davidson told her: "With a 10-year apprenticeship as deputy, seven as Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is eminently qualified. And, if I may offer a personal opinion, in many ways a more skilful politician than her immediate predecessor. She has been deployed more than once as the velvet glove to his clunking fist."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Ms Sturgeon's appointment was "an outstanding personal achievement".

Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie described her as a "highly capable, professional and very impressive figure on the political landscape of Scotland".

Joining her husband Peter Murrell, the SNP's chief executive, and close family members in the Holyrood VIP gallery were Kay Ullrich, the former MSP Ms Sturgeon first campaigned alongside as a teenager, and EuroMillions winners and party donors Colin and Chris Weir.

Ms Sturgeon's press office let it be known her striking red frock was by Totty Rocks, an Edinburgh design duo who have dressed model Kate Moss, actress America Ferrera and other celebrities.

Before leaving to plot her Cabinet reshuffle, expected tomorrow, the new First Minister paid tribute to her predecessor, Mr Salmond.

"Without the guidance and support that Alex has given me over more than 20 years, it is unlikely I would standing here," she said. "I know that I will continue to seek his wise counsel.

"And, who knows, from time to time, he might seek mine too!"