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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
Q&A: First minister
MSPs have elected SNP leader Alex Salmond as Scottish first minister following the 2007 election.

BBC Scotland political reporter Andrew Black answers some of the main questions behind Scotland's top job - and what the applicants have to do to get it.


What does the first minister do?

The first minister is the most senior elected politician in Scotland, historically always the leader of his or her party, who leads the Scottish Executive, or government, and chooses the cabinet and other ministers.

The first minister is responsible for the development, implementation and presentation of executive policy and for promoting and representing Scotland on the international stage.

Who has been first minister in the past?

There have been three Labour first ministers since devolution in 1999.

The first was Donald Dewar, who died in 2000, and his successor, Henry McLeish, resigned in 2001 following a row over Westminster constituency office expenses.

Before Mr Salmond, Jack McConnell held the job for more than five years.

How is a first minister chosen?

MSPs vote for a first minister in the Scottish Parliament's main chamber using the electronic voting system, with the successful candidate recommended to the Queen for approval.

Written nominations, which must be seconded, are submitted and each contender is allowed to make a brief speech.

If there is only one candidate, they must win a simple majority in the vote. If there are two, one must gain a simple majority over the other.

Where there are more than two contenders and none gains an absolute majority, successive rounds of voting are held and repeated until only one remains or wins more votes than the total number for all the other nominees.

The hopefuls can withdraw their candidature during any stage of the voting process on the day, but their nominations have to be in no later than 30 minutes before the selection and voting process begins.

What happens after the vote?

After the election, the first minister will receive the Royal Warrant from the Queen and take the official oath of allegiance before judges at the Court of Session.

The election result gave the SNP just one seat more than Scottish Labour and no party an overall majority, so how can a first minister be elected?

Because Alex Salmond's party became the biggest, he was seen as having the authority to have the first crack of the whip at winning the job and forming a government.

The smaller parties sat on their hands and let the Nationalist MSP vote carry him into power.

Mr Salmond also gained the votes of the two Scottish Green MSPs, following post-election talks.

How are the ministers appointed?

Parliament must approve the first minister's recommendation to the Queen for the appointment of senior and junior ministers.

What happens if parliament fails to elect a first minister?

Under the Scotland Act, a new first minister has to be appointed within 28 days of an election, making the current deadline 30 May.

If this does not happen, a fresh election has to be held.


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