SNP Ministers have assigned seven civil servants to a body drawing up defence policy for an independent Scotland.

Details of the Government's Defence Policy Unit emerged after The Herald revealed officials are working on 16 projects to create a blueprint for independence next year. In a parliamentary answer, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the unit was "supporting Scottish Ministers in developing defence policies for the constitutional options open to the people of Scotland" in the run-up to the 2014 referendum.

Work developing defence policy for an independent Scotland began a year ago and is expected to continue until next November when the Government's White Paper is due. Labour estimated the total salary costs for the unit at £750,000, over three years, based on pay grades revealed by Ms Sturgeon.

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Labour's Jackie Baillie, who quizzed the Minister, said: "It is remarkable that taxpayers are paying the salaries of civil servants who are writing the SNP's defence policy.

"We know his work has now been going on for a year and that it is clearly continuing. It is time for the SNP to stop wasting our money on work that prejudges the decision on separation which is two years away. How much more of our taxes are being spent by civil servants writing the SNP's prospectus for breaking up Britain? I think Scots will be amazed that their hard-earned money is being spent by Alex Salmond in this way."

Defence policy – a matter reserved to Westminster – is one of 16 independence-related civil service "workstreams" revealed by The Herald earlier this week.

The UK Government is conducting a similar exercise. Whitehall is working on 13 projects designed to show the advantages to Scotland of remaining in the UK.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The work programme of the Defence Policy Unit, which is a part of Resilience Division, provides support to Ministers, to our armed forces and veterans and to our communities across a range of defence activity in Scotland."