Scotland's employment total has seen its largest annual rise for almost seven years, with 92,000 more people now in work than there were a year ago.

The latest figures show employment has risen while the jobless total north of the border continues to fall.

The number of people in Scotland who are in work increased to 2,556,000 over the three months between October and December last year.

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Employment increased by 9,000 over the quarter and was up by 92,000 on the same period in 2012 - with the Scottish Government hailing this as the largest annual rise in employment in almost seven years.

The number of women in work has risen by 72,000 over the year.

The unemployment total - which includes those out of work and not eligible for benefits - dropped by 3,000 between October and December last year to stand at 195,000, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The number of people not working and claiming jobseeker's allowance also fell by 2,900 between December and January, to a new total of 110,400.

This is the 15th month in a row that the number of people claiming this benefit has fallen, with this 27,000 less than it was in the first month of 2013.

The unemployment rate in Scotland is now 7.1%, slightly below the rate of 7.2% for the UK as a whole.

First Minister Alex Salmond hailed the increase in the number of Scots in work.

"Delivering the largest annual increase in employment levels in nearly seven years is a demonstration of this Government's commitment to creating jobs and boosting the economy.," he said.

But he claimed the Scottish Government's work to boost the economy was "constrained" by the UK Government's austerity programme.

Mr Salmond said: "While we are making good progress, we continue to do so constrained by a Westminster Government's pursuit of austerity. We can go much further, as we have set out in our blueprint for independence 'Scotland's Future'.

"Only with the full fiscal and economic powers of independence can we can take a different approach, focused on maintaining and building sustainable economic growth, do more to strengthen our economy and create jobs."

The latest figures showed the largest annual increase in the number of women in work for more than 20 years, the Scottish Government said.

There are now 1,243,000 females in employment - the highest total ever.

Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance said: "Women are key to Scotland's economic growth and seeing such a strong increase in female employment over the year follows the Scottish Government's action to tackle the barriers faced by women seeking employment that have excluded them.

"That's why the role women play in our labour market is at the heart of our vision for independence. The Scottish Government's commitment to a universal childcare system would further significantly help raise women's participation in the labour market, increasing flexibility and opening the door for more women in the workplace."

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the latest unemployment figures showed Scotland's economy was growing as part of the UK, as he hit out at the First Minister over his independence plans.

The UK Government minister said: "Employment increasing, unemployment decreasing and a fall in the number of Scots claiming jobseeker's allowance for the 15th straight month is good news. There are now 92,000 more people in employment compared to the end of 2012 and 27,000 less people in Scotland claiming jobseeker's allowance than one year ago."

Despite that he said "challenges remain", and he pledged: "The UK Government will continue to work hard to find solutions to counter long term unemployment in Scotland."

Mr Carmichael is to co-chair the next meeting of the Scottish Employability Forum - which brings together the UK Government, Holyrood ministers, local government and others - in March.

He added: "With business confidence continuing to grow, more jobs are being created and inflation is now below the 2% Government target. Together with the Bank of England revising up its forecast for GDP growth in 2014, it is clear that being part of a large UK single market and an influential EU member benefits Scotland. Our economy is growing because we are part of the UK."

But after Chancellor George Osborne ruled out a formal currency union with an independent Scotland, Mr Carmichael said the First Minister was now "the man without a plan on the vital issue of currency".

He added: "Jobs and growth are closely linked to currency. If the First Minister cannot even tell us what currency we would have then people cannot take him seriously."