The First Minister has been accused of putting Scotland on pause before next year's independence referendum.
Labour leader Johann Lamont levelled the charge at Alex Salmond before the announcement of the referendum date.
Ordinary people are suffering while Mr Salmond is "concentrating on his obsession" of independence, she claimed.
With Mr Salmond due to reveal the date of the historic ballot in a statement to MSPs, Ms Lamont said people would "find out how long Scotland has to remain on pause while he tries to sell Scots a deal which Scotland rejects".
She said: "What we have now is Scotland on pause, a Scotland with 120,000 fewer students in colleges, a Scotland with pensioners languishing on trolleys in hospital corridors, a Scotland suffering from Tory cuts which the First Minister doubles and passes on to our communities.
"When Scotland rejects him, how will the First Minister explain to the student, the pensioner and the patient why he wasted so many years concentrating on his obsession and not on their needs?"
Mr Salmond responded by attacking Labour while defending his administration's record. "In terms of the health service, we have guaranteed and delivered real-terms spending for the health service in Scotland, something which would not have been done by the Labour party if they had come to power in Scotland and was not done by the Labour party in Wales."
He highlighted the "important reduction" in the youth unemployment rate, from just under 25% to 17%. That is still "far too high" but is nevertheless a "dramatic improvement over the last year".
The ability of the Scottish Government is constrained because Westminster still determines how much cash it has to spend, describing this as "the basic challenge of Scottish politics".
Turning on Labour, he said the party abstained in a vote on workfare in the House of Commons and abstained in votes on Trident and the Iraq war in Holyrood. "What Scotland needs is a government that doesn't abstain but takes control of Scotland and takes us forward into a prosperous and just future," Mr Salmond said.