Unemployment in Scotland increased by 3,000 to 179,000 last quarter, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics also recorded an increase of 16,000 of those in employment over the three months from December to February.

The number of those in employment in Scotland now stands at 2,575,000.

Scotland's unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 6.5%, below the average UK figure of of 6.9%.

First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the latest labour market statistics which he said showed employment levels were at a "record high".

He said: "Today's historic jobs figures show the Scottish Government's policy of investing in infrastructure to boost the economy is making significant progress with employment levels at a record high.

"To put it in perspective, there are 285,000 more people in employment today than there were when the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.

"Scotland is outperforming the UK across employment, unemployment and inactivity rates which goes to show even with the limited powers over the economy at our disposal we are improving our country's economic health."

The employment rate rose by 0.6 percentage points over the quarter to 73.3% - above the UK average rate of 72.6%. The number of people in employment rose by 68,000 over the year.

Unemployment in Scotland increased by 3,000 over the quarter but fell by 0.8 percentage points or 18,000 over the year to 179,000.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance fell by 2,400 to 104,600 in March, the 17th consecutive drop in claimants. The level is down 32,100 on March 2013.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said: "It is encouraging to see 16,000 more Scots move into work and the number claiming Jobseeker's Allowance fall for the 17th straight month.

"There are now 68,000 more people in work and around 32,000 fewer people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance than one year ago.

"With business confidence increasing, inflation falling to a four-and-a-half-year low and seven consecutive months of positive Scottish economic growth, Scotland is doing well as part of the UK.

"Any rise in unemployment shows that challenges remain. We must ensure that, as the economy recovers, the benefits are seen in communities across the length and breadth of Scotland."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "Liberal Democrats in the UK Government are building a stronger economy and today we can see what that means for people in Scotland.

"Sixteen thousand more Scots are in work, business confidence is increasing and positive growth continues for the Scottish economy as part of the UK. This is the positive economic progress which enables us to build a fairer society.

"Sharing across the UK's broad shoulders, Liberal Democrats have delivered lower taxes, higher pensions, new jobs and more childcare. But figures showing a quarterly rise in the number of people out of work shows that we cannot become complacent.

"The Scottish Government must work closely with the UK Government to unlock further opportunities for jobs and growth for Scotland as part of the UK."

Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, welcomed a 46,000 increase in female employment over the year.
She said: "It is encouraging to see more women in Scotland moving into work, enabling businesses to take advantage of a wide pool of skills and expertise.
"However, these figures act as a reminder that a level of fragility remains in the employment market as Scottish unemployment rose by 3,000.
"A focused business-led effort, supported by policy-makers, is required to address the skills shortages that our businesses are reporting. This will enable people in Scotland to develop the skills required to succeed in the labour market."
Andy Willox, Scottish policy convener at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "The increase in the number of people registered as unemployed shows that we still face a big economic challenge. We need to keep giving our small enterprises the support they need to drive the recovery."
Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Grahame Smith said: "Today's figures include some more positive news on the Scottish labour market but confirm that recovery remains very slow.
"Youth unemployment continues to stagnate at a high level with the unemployment rate for 16-24-year-olds falling by only 0.1% in the year to December. We also know that far too many of the jobs that are being created are low paid and insecure whilst the number of those needing more hours at work to make a decent living remains far too high."
SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said: "These record employment figures are an endorsement of the SNP's actions in government to support the Scottish economy.
"At a time of unprecedented budget cuts being passed down from Westminster, this is a significant achievement that must be welcomed. But we know there is more that can be done.
"With the full powers only independence can bring, we could do so much more to strengthen the Scottish economy and build a fairer Scotland."