NICOLA Sturgeon underlined her “enduring” belief in independence as she was officially re-elected as Scotland’s First Minister yesterday.

Her comment followed a vote in the chamber during which the SNP leader saw off a surprise challenge for the post from Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

During her acceptance speech, she also reminded her Unionist opponents there remained a pro-independence majority in Holyrood, with six Green MSPs augmenting the SNP’s tally of 63. “My passion and lifelong belief that Scotland should be independent is well known and it is enduring,” she said. “In this parliament, a majority of MSPs are from parties that support independence.”

The SNP leader won the vote for nomination as First Minister with these 63 votes, from a total of 127.

Five votes were cast by LibDem MSPs for Rennie, while there were 59 abstentions from Conservative, Labour and Green MSPs.

After the vote Sturgeon said she would seek “progressive” alliances to prop up her left-of-centre minority government, while the elevation of the Conservatives to Holyrood’s second biggest party made “the choice of the kind of country that we want to be sharper than it has been before”.

She stressed the SNP supported free prescriptions, free education and Scottish independence, policies the Conservatives opposed in their manifesto.

She also said her party would stand up for human rights and trade union rights, alluding to the UK Conservatives’ bid to scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a Trade Union Bill to regulate union activity.

The SNP leader became Scotland’s first female First Minister in 2014, succeeding Alex Salmond, who stood down following the No vote in the 2014 independence referendum.

“I pledge that for each and every day that I hold this office that I will strive to fulfil the duties placed on me to the very best of my ability, and I promise to use all of the powers that this office places in my hands to make this country an even better place to live,” she said, before striking a consensual note with rival parties.

“Each of us wants what is best for Scotland but we have different ideas, sometimes very different ideas, about how to achieve it.

“We must not seek to mask these differences – politics at its best will always be a creative battle of ideas – but just as importantly we must not allow our differences to obscure the areas of agreement that do exist between us.”

She added: “We are a left of centre, social-democratic government and the alliances we will seek to build will be progressive.”

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, whose party now has 31 MSPs, congratulated Sturgeon and said her party was determined to fulfil its election promise of being the “strong opposition the parliament and this country so desperately requires”.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also wished Sturgeon well as “the most powerful First Minister that this country has ever seen” and urged her to use her mandate to “be bold”.

“The people have changed the balance of power in this Parliament and they have deprived the Government of a majority. That means an even greater responsibility on the First Minister to build consensus and to reach out to parties that represent the wide and varied interests of people across Scotland,” she said.

“Each time she reaches out, she’ll be faced with a choice, a fork in the road. She can look to the left where she’ll find allies in progressive parties, who believe in the power of government to transform lives, or she can look right, to conservative forces who ask government to do less and cut more.”

Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie, whose party increased its presence from two to six seats, overtaking the Liberal Democrats on five, said minority government would be “an opportunity for creative thinking” on issues including climate change and parliamentary reform.

Rennie joked his 12-year-old son was “unimpressed” at his bid to stand against Sturgeon for First Minister.

He also explained he was “inspired by a woman nationalist leader who stood up against the odds”, alluding to Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood’s abandoned bid to oust Welsh Labour’s first minister.

Sturgeon paid tribute to Rennie’s “colourful” election campaign, and joked if the result was tied, they would race down a “giant inflatable slide” to decide who got the job.

Sturgeon will now be formally appointed by the Queen.