SCOTLAND, unlike the UK as a whole, is clear of any immediate danger of triple-dip recession, with official figures revealing 0.5% growth in the fourth quarter of 2012 as renewable energy output increased and the service sector expanded.

News of this strong quarter-on-quarter rise in Scottish gross domestic product came as a surprise yesterday, given a 0.3% fall in UK-wide GDP in the final three months of last year.

Figures due later this month from the Office for National Statistics will reveal whether or not the UK suffered a further contraction in GDP in the opening quarter of 2013, with economists viewing this as a very close call.

A further fall in economic output in the first quarter would mean the UK had suffered its third recession since 2008.

However, yesterday's GDP figures from the Scottish Government mean the economy north of the Border is in no such danger for now.

They showed that services output in Scotland grew by 0.3% quarter-on-quarter in the final three months of 2012 in spite of a 4.2% drop in activity in the financial and insurance category. The overall UK service sector stagnated in the fourth quarter.

And there was an 8.8% quarter-on-quarter leap in electricity and gas supply in Scotland in the final three months of 2012, much greater than a corresponding 2.2% rise UK-wide.

The Scottish Government said: "The (GDP) growth in Scotland is partly due to a large increase in electricity and gas supply, which included strong growth in renewable energy output over the quarter."

However, while welcoming news of Scottish growth in the fourth quarter, economists north of the Border highlighted the impact of the London 2012 Olympics on the pattern of GDP in the second half of last year. The Olympics provided a strong boost to UK GDP in the third quarter.

Economists noted that, over the second half of 2012, growth in Scotland had been similar to that in the UK as a whole.

The Scottish economy grew by 0.3% in the third quarter, trailing significantly the rise in GDP in the UK as a whole over the same period.

Economists also highlighted the drag on UK GDP in the fourth quarter from a decline in North Sea oil and gas production. They pointed out that North Sea oil and gas extraction was not included in the Scottish GDP numbers.

Meanwhile, economists expressed disappointment about the performance of the Scottish manufacturing sector, which suffered a 0.5% fall in output in the fourth quarter.

Although this was not as steep as a corresponding 1.4% drop UK-wide, it underlined the continuing absence of an export-led economic recovery.

Jeremy Peat, director of The David Hume Institute economic think-tank in Edinburgh, said: "Growth is not coming from investment. Growth is not coming from manufacturing. I would be more happy with a pattern that showed those two really strong."

He added: "Manufacturing is disappointing at the UK level and the Scottish level. Manufacturing output is not picking up and, given the depreciation of sterling, one would have thought exports were going to grow, but we haven't seen that coming through yet."

Over 2012 as a whole, the Scottish economy recorded growth of 0.3%. Strathclyde University's Fraser of Allander Institute had projected a 0.1% fall. UK GDP also grew by 0.3% in 2012.

Brian Ashcroft, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Strathclyde, calculated that, excluding oil and gas, the UK as a whole was 1.9% below its pre-2008/9 Great Recession peak in output, while Scotland was 2.4% adrift.

Mr Ashcroft, economics editor of the Fraser of Allander Institute's regular economic commentary, added: "Overall, recovery (is) slightly weaker in Scotland. Nonetheless, it is good news we see growth in the final quarter."

He emphasised that manufaturing was "still very weak".

Scottish construction output rose 0.6% in the fourth quarter.