The SNP government is creating a new role at the top of the civil service to head its agenda on independence and constitutional change.
The post will carry a six-figure salary, and the news prompted opposition criticism that the Nationalists have got their priorities all wrong at a time of falling budgets.
The senior official – to be known as director general for strategy and external affairs – will be responsible for looking into the implications of the SNP’s case for more economic and tax powers for the Scottish Parliament.
But the job was branded a “separation tsar” by Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie yesterday.
She added: “What will nurses, teachers and other hard-pressed public sector workers make of Alex Salmond’s appointment of an independence guru on a fancy salary paid for out of the public purse?
“This says everything about Alex Salmond’s priorities, and nothing about Scotland’s needs.”
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: “At a time when thousands of public sector workers face losing their jobs, the creation of a new six-figure post to promote separation sends all the wrong messages. I don’t deny the election result gave the SNP the mandate to hold a referendum on separation, but the creation of this new job is basically a ‘director general for separation’ at public expense.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “This looks like a Department for Independence.”
The Scottish Government currently has six directors-general working directly under the permanent secretary, Scotland’s most senior civil servant. The salary for a director-general is between £101,500 and £208,100.
The new post brings together three existing directorates of Cabinet, strategy and performance, as well as international and constitution.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The creation of this post will strengthen our capability to deliver the government’s ambitious programme for Scotland.
“We are already well on the way to achieving the government’s policy to reduce senior civil service costs by 25 per cent over the next three years.”