First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has spoken of her “huge sadness” following the resignation of former SNP leader Alex Salmond from the party.
Mr Salmond announced he was quitting on Wednesday amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies.
The ex-first minister said he intended to apply to rejoin the party once he had an opportunity to clear his name.
Ms Sturgeon called Mr Salmond her “friend and mentor for almost 30 years” and said she understood his decision.
But she said: “The hard fact remains that two complaints were received by the Scottish government that could not be ignored or swept under the carpet.”
Mr Salmond, who was Scottish first minister from 2007 to 2014 and oversaw the independence referendum, released a video on social media on Wednesday evening announcing his resignation from the SNP.
It follows allegations, which emerged last week, from two Scottish government staff members about his behaviour when he was first minister.
Mr Salmond has described the allegations as “patently ridiculous” and has begun legal action against the Scottish government over its handling of the claims.
‘Innocent until proven guilty’
In his statement, Mr Salmond said he was quitting because he wanted to avoid potential divisions within the SNP, which has faced calls to suspend him.
He stated: “I did not come into politics to facilitate opposition attacks on the SNP and, with Parliament returning next week, I have tendered my resignation to remove this line of opposition attack.
“Most of all, I am conscious that if the party felt forced into suspending me it would cause substantial internal division.”
He added: “For my part I have always thought it a very poor idea to suspend any party member on the basis of complaints and allegations. Innocent until proven guilty is central to our concept of justice.”
Mr Salmond – who took the SNP closer to its aim of independence than it had ever been – said he had been a member of the party for 45 years, 20 of them as leader.
He said: “I truly love the SNP and the wider independence movement in Scotland. They have been the defining commitment of my life. But today I have written to the National Secretary of the party resigning my membership.”
The current SNP leader Ms Sturgeon said she “felt a huge sadness about the whole situation”.
In a statement on Twitter, she said the decision was Mr Salmond’s alone, and she understood why he had chosen to separate “the current questions he is facing from the day to day business of the SNP and the ongoing campaign for independence”.
“I know party members will be upset by this news, just as I am,” she added.
“I also know there are many questions that can only be answered in the fullness of time. It is important now that any legal processes are allowed to take their course.”
The Daily Record newspaper broke the news of the sexual misconduct allegations last Thursday.
The paper claims to have seen wording of one complaint which describes an incident alleged to have taken place at the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh, Bute House, in the first week of December 2013.
The two women lodged complaints in January this year, just weeks after the Scottish government adopted a new complaints procedure in the light of wider concern about sexual harassment at Holyrood and Westminster.
Mr Salmond claims that the subsequent investigation into the allegations against him by senior Scottish government civil servants was “unfair and unjust”.
He said he had been given no opportunity to “see and therefore to properly challenge the case against me” and that he had “not been allowed to see the evidence”.
Mr Salmond has also claimed that someone within the Scottish government has “flagrantly and repeatedly” breached the confidential complaints process by leaking details to the Daily Record.
He is now seeking a judicial review of the new complaints procedure. He launched a crowdfunding appeal to fund his legal action.
- Leader of Scottish National Party 1990-2000 and 2004-2014
- First Minister of Scotland 2007 – 2014
- Stood down after Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom in the September 2014 independence referendum
The Scottish government has insisted the complaints process has been “entirely confidential throughout” and has said it will defend its position vigorously in the courts.
The complaints against Mr Salmond have been passed to Police Scotland which has said it is assessing the information.
Mr Salmond returned to frontline politics when he was elected as the SNP MP for Gordon in 2015 and became the party’s foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster before losing the seat in the snap general election two years later.
Since then he has faced heavy criticism for hosting the Alex Salmond Show on Russian broadcaster RT, which has been described as a propaganda channel for the Kremlin – a claim Mr Salmond has denied.