Scottish unemployment falls by 12,000
Unemployment in Scotland fell by 12,000 to 219,000 in the three months to February, according to new official figures.
The Scottish jobless rate now stands at 8.1%, below the UK average of 8.3%.
The number of unemployed is still 4,000 higher than a year ago.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data also showed employment in Scotland increased by 17,000 over the period, with the number of those in work at 2,484,000.
The number of people claiming Job Seeker's Allowance rose by 900 from February to reach 143,800 in March.
That figure was 5,100 higher than March 2011.
The unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds in Scotland was 94,000, or 22.9% for the three months to February.
Winter wasn't as bad as all that. There were many grim figures through the dark months, but now we learn the jobs market was picking up.
It's not just that the unemployment figures were improving, but also that job creation looked more robust.
Underlying it, however, there remain concerns about gradually rising female and long-term unemployment, as well as a big rise in part-time work because people can't find full-time jobs.
For the Scottish economy, it's worth noting that unemployment rose by 4,000 over the year, while in England it was up by 165,000.
Those in work increased by 6,000, while for England, it was down by 94,000.
And it's a relief that the contraction in the economy in the fourth quarter of last year wasn't as had been feared, or as bad as the UK as a whole.
While growth stalled in other sectors, it was only put into negative territory by construction.
The youth employment rate was 52.5%, 3.5% higher than the UK figure of 49%.
At 66.6%, the rate of female employment in Scotland was higher than the UK as a whole
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said the figures were welcome news.
He said: "We can be hopeful this is a sign that the Scottish labour market is stabilising, but there is clearly still a big challenge ahead to bring down unemployment and get more people back into jobs.
"We still have a lot of work to do and there is absolutely no room for complacency."
He added: "While these are challenging times for the economy, the UK government is doing all it can to create the right conditions for businesses to create long-lasting jobs."
First Minister Alex Salmond said: "This is the biggest fall in unemployment in Scotland for over a year, and Scotland now has lower unemployment, higher employment, and lower economic inactivity than the UK as a whole."
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont welcomed an improvement in the jobs figures but sounded a note of caution about Scotland's economic recovery.
She pointed to the 0.1% fall in Scottish GDP in the final three months of last year as one cause for concern.
Ms Lamont said: "While we are pleased that the jobs figures have increased, it is clear that Scotland still has a long way to go before the tide has turned.
"The fact that the Scottish economy slipped back in the last quarter is evidence we are not out of the woods yet."
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the figures represented "a significant fall" in unemployment and brought Scotland's jobless rate back below the UK average.Youth unemployment
Chief executive Liz Cameron said: "We believe that tackling high levels of youth unemployment remains a priority and Scottish Chambers of Commerce have been active in progressing our plans with the Scottish government and others to focus on graduate unemployment, ensuring that Scotland does not lose out on the wealth of untapped talent our young people possess."
The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) said the latest figures were both welcome and surprising but warned the overall picture was much more complex.
General Secretary Grahame Smith said: "Rapidly rising unemployment amongst women in Scotland continues to be a major concern.
"Long-term youth claimant count unemployment also continues to rise and if Scotland is following the UK trend, we can also anticipate that most of the new jobs being created are part-time or self-employment.
"The increase in involuntary part-time employment continues to be the great hidden story of the labour market post-recession".