Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats showed there were 47,407 full-time equivalent government staff in Scotland in 2009, up from 46,050 in the previous year – a rise that opposition politicians called "unsustainable".
The news came as the Scottish Government faced fresh criticism over public sector pay after job adverts appeared offering six-figure salaries for quango bosses.
Jeremy Purvis, the Liberal Democrat finance spokesman, said the rise was a "movement in the wrong direction". He added: "At a time when people are losing their jobs in the private sector, governments should not be getting bigger."
"The growth in the number of civil servants is simply not sustainable while frontline services are being cut back and 50,000 people have lost their jobs in the private sector in the last year."
Mr Purvis also criticised the Scottish Government after vacancies for the top jobs in two Scottish quangos were advertised.
The Scottish Prison Service is to pay its new chief executive 110,000 and Scottish Development International will offer an "executive package" understood to include a six-figure salary – to its new head.
Mr Purvis said: "Advertising two new posts worth – we expect – more than 100,000 is unnecessary. These are vacancies that could be delivered through secondment or combined roles, or it could be an opportunity to look at revised terms and conditions. The SNP Government simply isn't doing it and they are carrying on as if there is no recession at all."
The UK government pointed out that civil service headcount has reduced over 20 years, and a source close to finance secretary John Swinney added: "It seems bizarre that the Liberal Democrats are bemoaning the fact that people aren't losing their jobs in the public sector during this recession. We are committed to simplifying Scotland's public sector and have already cut the number of public bodies from 199 to 162.
"The Public Services Reform Bill and forthcoming Children's Hearings Bill will reduce that number to around 120 bodies by 2011 – helping us meet our target of reducing the number of public bodies by a quarter."
Meanwhile, Chancellor Alistair Darling upped the government's rhetoric on public sector pay cuts yesterday, indicating that civil servants and other public staff would need to accept wage reductions.
"In some quangos, local authorities and other organisations, the level of pay, especially at the top end, and bonuses have reached the stage where they don't pass what I call the next-door neighbour test," he said. "If you can't justify them to your neighbour, you've probably got it wrong."