ALEX Salmond has denied that the independence referendum left Scotland a divided country, as he suggested he could one day return to Holyrood.

In his final speech in the chamber, the former First Minister, who is standing down as an MSP to focus on his Westminster role, described an “extraordinary” campaign ahead of the historic 2014 vote. He said it had created “democratic participation and engagement that most societies can only dream of”.

Mr Salmond, who led Scotland for seven years after the SNP’s first election victory in 2007, welcomed the transfer of new powers to Holyrood but said they had not lived up to promises made in the last days of the referendum campaign.

He said: “In my very first speech to this chamber I refuted the idea that we were a divided parliament representing a divided country. I suggested that we were not divided but diverse.

“Now we have all experienced an extraordinary referendum campaign, one which was hard fought certainly but one which produced a level of democratic participation and engagement that most societies can only dream of. Yes, we are a country of different views but we are not divided.

“There is a broad consensus on the need for this parliament to assume greater responsibility for the governance of Scotland. And we are definitely stronger – so much stronger – as a result.”

The former SNP leader, now his party’s foreign affairs spokesman, said there was no longer any doubt over the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, with the only question now at what pace it would assume more responsibility.

He said there was “no greater honour in public life than to be a member of this parliament”, having served at Holyrood between 1999 and 2001, before departing for Westminster and then returning to lead the SNP.

He added: “There is no greater task than to mould the public purpose of Scotland. There is no greater cause than to serve that of the people of this country. So with that, it’s goodbye from me – for now.”

Holyrood’s Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, was visibly emotional as she said farewell to Mr Salmond on behalf of MSPs. During his time in charge of the SNP in the assembly, he saw off a string of Scottish Labour leaders including Jack McConnell and Iain Gray, securing a remarkable majority for his party in 2011.

Ms Marwick said: “You have served the parliament and Scotland with distinction and I thank you for that.

“The parliament will certainly be a much duller place without you and I wish you well in all you do in the future.”

John Swinney, another former SNP leader and now Deputy First Minister, said: “Alex Salmond was both my predecessor and my successor in a very unique set of circumstances.

“I want to put on record my appreciation and admiration for the astonishing contribution Alex Salmond has made to the national life of Scotland, which is not over yet as he’s going to carry that on in the House of Commons in representing the people of Gordon.

“Throughout his activities he has given decisive and emphatic leadership to ensure that Scotland became a more confident country as a consequence of his efforts, and for that every single one of us should be profoundly grateful to Alex Salmond for the enormous transformation he has delivered to Scottish society.”