Alex Salmond's Plan Macb

As is only fitting, the first minister has taken of late to defending - indeed actively promoting - Scotland's drinks industry.

Not, in this case, whisky - although we may take for granted that he is well aware of the intrinsic worth of the water of life as far as the Scottish economy is concerned.

In recent days, Alex Salmond was to be found advancing the merits of Irn Bru. Indeed, he was helping to protect our "other national drink" from the potential depredations of the European Union.

Today, he was at it again, brandishing a bottle of a concoction called macb - a low-calorie, fruit-flavoured spring water which emanates from his former constituency of Banff and Buchan.

According to Mr S, macb represented a lesson to the chancellor.

No, not that George Osborne could do with fewer calories and a dash more fruit. And, no, nothing to do with the king in the Scottish Play.

Rather, the FM envisaged an economic switch, predicated upon the policies already being pursued by A. Salmond and J. Swinney. Not just a Plan B - but a Plan MacB.

Mr Salmond's argument goes like this. Scotland has recorded rising employment and falling unemployment in the last quarter. That record, he notes, outpaces every other part of the UK.

Claimant count rise

And the cause? Mr Salmond attributes the development substantially to policies pursued by the Scottish government: notably accelerated capital investment, access to finance and the stability involved in a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies in those areas of the public sector over which he has direct control.

Again according to the FM, private sector job increases are more than compensating for jobs being shed in the public sector.

And Plan MacB? He urged Mr Osborne to reverse or mitigate the planned cuts in capital spending and to adopt the other economic policies being pursued by the Scottish government.

Mr Salmond emphasised further that there was "no room for complacency" within the Scottish body politic, especially in the light of the fact that Scotland's claimant count rose in August.

Alternative voices? Labour points to that claimant count and, in particular, the "scourge" of youth unemployment. These latter figures, they say, represent "wasted talent and wasted opportunity" in Scotland.

Mr Salmond accepts that point - but points to initiatives such as the programme to provide training or education for every 16 to 19-year-old, being confirmed this afternoon by the Education Secretary Michael Russell.

Then there is analysis offered by the Centre for Public Policy and the Regions.

They say the labour trends are hard to square with other statistics, logging decidedly poor growth performances in key sectors such as construction and finance. Indeed, they question the robustness of the data.

Mr Salmond insists that he is placing a legitimate interpretation upon the available figures, noting that comparable parameters are applied across the UK - and that Scotland is leading the way.