THE SNP has an opportunity to "set an example to the rest of the UK" by attempting to curb excessive pay packets of top executives at Scottish companies, a think-tank has said.

The High Pay Centre, which is hosting a fringe event at the party's conference in Aberdeen this week, has published new research showing that 35 executives at some of the country's biggest companies took home £55 million between them last year, as it claimed that the issue of stark pay inequality is not confined to London.

It analysed figures published in annual reports of 12 Scottish-headquartered businesses included on the FTSE 350 index of the UK's largest listed companies and found that the senior bosses typically picked up on average 40 times as much as the average employee.

The highest paid was David Nish, who stepped down as chief executive of Standard Life after earning almost £5.5 million in 2014. Another director was paid just over £5.2 million.

Aberdeen Asset Management, the investment management group, paid out almost £15 million which was shared between its chief executive Martin Gilbert and five other executives. Other Scottish-based firms highlighted by the High Pay Centre included SSE, which paid out £4m shared between two executives and Royal Bank of Scotland, which paid two executives nearly £5m between them.

High Pay Centre Director Deborah Hargreaves said: "Fatcat pay is most closely associated with the City of London, but dysfunctional and disproportionate pay gaps between executives and ordinary workers are also a big problem in Scotland.

"Of course we need to raise living standards by growing the economy, but it’s also vital to share what we already have a little bit more fairly. The SNP’s current dominance of Scottish politics gives them an opportunity to set an example to the rest of the UK in this respect."

An average salary in Scotland for a full time worker is just over £27,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. The High Pay Centre, which campaigns to reduce the income gap, believes there has been a failure in both within the market and among policy makers in addressing spiralling pay at the top of the scale, which has left Britain one with one of the largest levels of pay inequality in Europe.

At the event at the SNP conference on Thursday, it will question whether the party can become a catalyst to introduce fairer pay. Speakers include John Mason, the Holyrood backbencher, and Robin McAlpine of the radical left wing think tank Common Weal.

The Scottish Government has encouraged companies to pay the living wage but has remained relatively silent on the issue of rising executive salaries.

Last year, a spokesman called for executives to be "mindful" of the current economic climate when considering pay policy. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has called for a more radical approach, calling for a commitment that a swathe of new powers set to be transferred to Holyrood will be used to redistribute wealth.

A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: "They may talk a good game but after eight years in Government the SNP can't point to a single redistributive achievement. They voted against Scottish Labour's plans to extend the living wage to low paid professions like cleaners, carers and caterers, they voted against Scottish Labour's plans to use fair taxes to invest in our schools and they are willing to spend £250 million on a tax cut compared to just £25 million to cutting the gap between the rich and the rest. With more powers coming to Scotland the time is to put up or shut up, let's build a fairer Scotland."