Jack McConnell yesterday attacked the group of MSPs who protested against the Trident nuclear deterrent this week, accusing them of wasting police time by trying to get arrested for publicity.

The charge led to angry scenes at First Minister's Question time.

On Monday, three Socialist MSPs - Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie and Frances Curran - were arrested but not charged after protesting outside the Faslane naval base.

Green MSPs and SNP Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon also took part in the Faslane 365 demo, a year-long attempted blockade at the Clyde base which began last October.

Labour MSP Duncan McNeil yesterday called on all the MSPs involved to apologise to people who became victims of crime during the protest as they had diverted police officers away from more pressing problems.

The cost of policing the year-long action has been put at £27.6m and other Labour MSPs will be writing to their local police forces to find out the knock-on effects of staffing the protest.

Questioning Mr McConnell about his attitude to opposing Trident, Ms Sturgeon said that Mr McNeil and Labour's "extremist wing" were condemning peaceful protest.

Mr McConnell replied: "There is a world of difference between people genuinely having a view on Trident, and a consistent view, and expressing that view peacefully in protest, and politicians deliberately setting themselves up to try to get arrested and wasting police time as a result."

Ms Sturgeon said that was "sheer and utter hypocrisy". She went on: "If Labour was not replacing Trident, there would be no need for police at Faslane and we would have £25bn more to spend on police, schools and hospitals."

Annabel Goldie, Scots Tory leader, then joined in Labour's attack on protesting MSPs, branding them publicity seekers, adding the right to protest was "a freedom which a nuclear deterrent helps to retain".

She asked Mr McConnell if he agreed "that these MSPs are self-serving, self-publicists and that they owe an apology to Scottish taxpayers?"

The First Minister said he supported the right of politicians and others to "demonstrate their views" but that did not extend to MSPs deliberately trying to get arrested.

"The parties in this parliament that actively encouraged that sort of protest I think should be ashamed of themselves," he said.

Ms Goldie said no Tory MSPs had taken part in the Faslane demo, then turned on Ms Sturgeon.

"While her main aim is to get a picture in the paper, the true cost of the actions of her and her Socialist brothers and sisters is a multi-million pound policing bill, diversion of police resources, increased vulnerability for victims of crime, unnecessary use of precious court resources and more overcrowding in prisons," she said.

After angrily asking the Presiding Officer to be allowed to speak, Ms Curran said she and other MSPs had been protesting within the law, and if the policing costs were high it was only because the security was disproportionate.

She later accused Mr McNeil of being "Tony Blair's nuclear mouthpiece".

She said: "Far from protesters apologising, he should say sorry to pensioners, low-paid workers and those facing cuts in health services for taking their money and squandering £76bn on useless weapons of mass destruction.

"With his New Labour colleagues he hasn't the guts to tell Blair to scrap missiles and spend the cash on schools, hospitals and desperately- needed houses."

Mr McNeil claimed the SNP was determined to waste police time and resources with self-serving publicity stunts.

"The vast majority of Scots want to see police officers in the community and on the beat," he said.