NICOLA Sturgeon has been re-elected by MSPs as First Minister after easily seeing off symbolic challenges from two other party leaders.

She won after a single round of voting after beating Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie and the Scottish Conservatives’ Douglas Ross.

She received 64 votes compared to four for Mr Rennie and 31 for Mr Ross, with Labour and the Greens abstaining.

She said it was a privilege to be chosen as First Minister for a third time since 2014 and thanked her family for their love and support through the pandemic.

She promised to lead a "government of action", and said its first 100 days would see the  Covid vaccine rollout completed, an NHS recovery plan published, and a consultation on a National Care Service. 

She also maintained she had a democratic mandate for a second independence referendum, but said she would not exercise it until after "the crisis has passed".

Having been chosen as the parliament’s nominee, she will be formally sworn in by Scotland’s most senior judges at the Court of Session tomorrow. 

In her opening speech, she said her priority in the coming months would be tackling the Covid pandemic and working on the economic recovery.

She said: “This is a time to think big. It is a time to be pioneers.”

Mr Rennie used his speech to comment on the current state of Scottish politics, saying the country was “divided as never before” and “split down the middle”.

He accused the SNP and the Tories of stoking fear for electoral purposes, adding: “Even greater radicalisation of the hardcore support on either side is not sustainable”.

He accused the Tories of being the biggest threat to the Union with off-putting policies such as cuts to international aid and a “cavalier” approach to Northern Ireland.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon to give Covid update today amid speculation over local lockdown changes

However he said the United Kingdom was bigger than them or Boris Johnson.

Ms Sturgeon observed Mr Rennie had a remarkable “self-confidence” to stand for First Minister after beginning the election with five MSPs and ending it with four.

Mr Ross acknowledged there was no chance of him becoming First Minister today, but said standing for the role was a mark of his party’s ambition. 

He listed the bills his party intended to bring forward from the opposition benches. 

He also criticised the Scottish Government for its recent handling of the coronavirus lockdown, saying never again should business learn they had to stay closed just a few hours before they expected to open their doors.

After the vote, Mr Ross congratulated Ms Sturgeon on her win but added: "We have to take Scotland forward.

"We cannot spend the next five years mired in the same stale debates and disagreements that consumed and held back the last Parliament.

"This time we need a Parliament of action.

"A Parliament of delivery. A Parliament of purpose.

"A Parliament that unites this country and leads it in a national mission to get us all through this.

"If that is the task that the SNP Government applies itself to 100 per cent then it will find support from these benches.

"But if they deviate from that task, if the put political priorities ahead of Scotland’s interests; if they waste time in this chamber on old arguments instead of constructive delivery then we will fight them every step of the way."

Mr Rennie also paid tribute to her “personal sacrifice” and said he had great respect for the way she had handled the tough choices facing the Government due the pandemic.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, working remotely because he is self-isolating after a  family Covid case, said: Right now, we need a First Minister for everyone in Scotland.

“Not a campaigner leading a movement for half the country; but a First Minister who will lead a national recovery for everyone.

“In the final TV debate, the First Minister made that promise. We will hold her to that promise.

“The national recovery can't just be a slogan; it must be our Parliament’s collective national mission on behalf of the people we are all elected to represent.

“So, over the coming years, let’s be inspired by the future we can build; not the arguments of the past.

“Let’s demonstrate the best of Scotland and let's focus on what unites us; not what divides us."

In her first speech at Holyrood, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater urged Ms Sturgeon to work with a diverse parliament to tackle the Covid covery and the climate emergency.

She said: “Will we, as a more diverse group, have a more positive working culture? Will there be more cross-party working on matters such as a National Care Service, housing, education, and tackling the Climate and Nature Emergencies? Will we be able to think long term? To think about the well-being of our people and stewardship of our land and resources, rather than allowing exploitation and extraction? I have hope.”