Alex Salmond on the rack over criticisms by business

ALEX Salmond was forced on to the defensive yesterday in First Minister's questions following severe criticism from Scottish business leaders.

In a highly personal attack Labour leader Iain Gray said Mr Salmond had "lost the plot" and described him as "stupid" over the economy.

Mr Gray was following up on revelations in The Scotsman that leaders of three of Scotland's biggest business organisations believe the SNP has an anti-private sector agenda in government.

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CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan highlighted the treatment of Diageo's attempts to restructure, plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, the decision to cancel the Glasgow Airport rail link and blocking of private-sector involvement in prisons and hospitals, as evidence of an anti-business agenda.

Institute of Directors Scottish director David Watt and Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron also attacked the SNP for planning to chop the enterprise budget by 74 million and some of the leftwing rhetoric used in speeches by senior ministers, particularly Mr Salmond's deputy, Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr Gray mocked the claim on the Scottish Government website that "The Purpose – capital T capital P" is to grow the economy. Quoting from The Scotsman, he claimed that the business leaders' comments showed this was untrue.

And Mr Gray described Mr Salmond as "The Problem – capital T and capital P."

He added: "He is a banker who got it wrong on the banks, an economist who is getting it wrong on the economy – and a Scottish First Minister who is getting it wrong for Scotland".

Mr Salmond was also accused of treating executives at drinks giant Pernod Ricard rudely.

It was claimed they were "shocked" by Mr Salmond's stance on minimum pricing at a meeting in Paris last week. Mr Gray said the First Minister's behaviour had been described as "unwilling to listen to reason, aggressive and extremely rude".

He added: "This is damning stuff. I don't care whether the First Minister damages his own reputation, but I do care if he damages the reputation of Scotland abroad.

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"Does he really think this is the appropriate way to represent Scotland abroad with companies who employ thousands of Scottish workers?"

The issue was also taken up by Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie, who added that people would find it hard to believe Labour's support for business as credible.

"This SNP government has lost the confidence of the business community in Scotland and the business friendly image of the SNP at the election was clearly just another charade to get votes," she said.

But Mr Salmond pointed out that Ms Goldie had also been on the Diageo march.

Hitting back at Mr Gray, a clearly angry Mr Salmond quoted Labour sources describing Iain Gray as "simply not visible" and lacking in big ideas, and talking of a leadership vacuum at the top of Labour.

And defending his government's record, he said: "We have acted to save these jobs – and I am even more delighted to tell Iain Gray that two weeks ago David Turner, the chief executive of that operation, was able to write to me saying there's going to be another 170 jobs created". He also mocked Mr Gray for finally coming round to supporting accelerating capital spending five months after the SNP had first called for it.