SCOTTISH ministers have created a new post of director of external affairs, commanding a six-figure salary.
The move is seen as a precursor to a foreign office within the Scottish Government, if the SNP secures a Yes vote in the independence referendum.
However, the newly advertised role has come in for heavy criticism, with accusations that it amounts to a presumptuous waste of money.
The successful candidate will earn up to £162,500 a year and take charge of a team of about 120 staff, including some based in the United States, Canada, China and Belgium.
Key tasks will include advising the government on how it should seek international recognition as an independent country “in the event of a Yes vote” in the 2014 referendum.
The advert says the successful applicant will be handed a “running-costs budget of about £6 million and programme resources of around £15m a year” and will report directly to First Minister Alex Salmond.
Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has written to Sir Peter Housden, the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, calling the post an “appalling abuse of public funds”.
He said: “The permanent secretary must reverse farcical plans to create a new foreign office within the Scottish Government.
“As part of the United Kingdom, we are served by the world’s biggest diplomatic network, yet Alex Salmond will use our taxes to set up a foreign office outfit for his independence campaign.
“This is before he has even asked the Scottish people if they want to live in a separate country.”
Scottish Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson added: “Before Scots have even decided if we want to separate from the rest of Britain, Salmond is out setting up his own diplomatic service.
“By prejudging the people of Scotland, he is insulting all of us with these delusions of grandeur.”
And it was not just political opponents questioning the wisdom of the move.
Eben Wilson, director of the TaxpayerScotland campaign group, warned the plans were “pre-emptive” and could lead to taxpayers’ money being wasted.
He said: “Mr Salmond must be aware that this money could be completely wasted, should he lose the referendum.”
“The eagerness to declare Scotland’s potential independence before the people have had a chance to have their say comes across as anti-democratic.”
However, the Scottish Government defended the plans. A spokesman said: “The director for external affairs will support Scottish ministers in their relationships with other governments and institutions, such as the EU.”