ALEX Salmond’s former spin doctor personally advised the organisation which represents university principals on how to oppose the SNP Government’s plans for higher education reform.

Kevin Pringle, who works for lobbying firm Charlotte Street Partners, was hired to coach senior Universities Scotland figures ahead of a Holyrood evidence session.

The Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill attempts to modernise the way universities are run. The legislation allows for the direct election of chairs to a University’s governing body, as well as ensuring trade union representation.

However, the proposals have divided stakeholders in the sector. The National Union of Students and the University and Colleges Union, the latter of which represents lecturers, is in favour of the plan, but Universities Scotland is opposed.

Universities Scotland, which works for the principals and directors of Scotland's 19 higher education institutions, believes the Bill grants Ministers “unprecedented and far-reaching powers”.

Universities Scotland has also argued that elected Court chairs could create “conflict”, and opposes the provision on trade unions.

It was revealed recently that the body had hired the PR firm Pringle works for to help prep senior members before a committee hearing at Holyrood.

The Universities Scotland website states: “It's been a busy time for our small public affairs team, so we've sought some assistance from communications consultancy Charlotte Street Partners. We've had three days of their time to help our members with preparation for a Parliamentary appearance.

“We haven't asked Charlotte Street to arrange any meetings on our behalf. It's been a useful experiment, and we'll reflect on whether to repeat it.”

However, the person advising the body on how to pitch its case against the SNP Government policy was the party’s own former chief spin doctor.

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Angela Constance giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's public audit committee

Picture: Angela Constance is the Cabinet Secretary behind the higher education legislation

Pringle, who is highly regarded in SNP and media circles, worked for the party at various points between 1989 and 2015.

He was Salmond’s key aide in Opposition before becoming the then First Minister's most senior special adviser in 2007. He took on a more strategic role as SNP communications director in 2012 before becoming a partner at the lobbying firm this year.

Charlotte Street Partners has deep SNP links: founding partner Andrew Wilson was an SNP MSP between 1999 and 2003.

It has also been reported that campaigners managed to persuade the SNP in Westminster to oppose liberalising Sunday opening hours south of the Border after hiring the firm.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: "Kevin Pringle is a talented operator. The SNP will be nervous that he seems not to have wasted any time turning from gamekeeper to poacher to advise on how to best oppose a flagship piece of legislation from the nationalist government.

"But the truth here is that Universities Scotland could have saved their money. You don't need the advice of SNP insiders or anyone else to spot the glaring flaws in the Higher Education Bill."

A Charlotte Street Partners spokesperson said: "All interested parties having clear communication and making their case as effectively as possible serves the interests of good decisions and good legislation."

A Universities Scotland spokesperson said: "We were pleased to have some external and objective advice ahead of an important committee session for us as an organisation and we have no hesitation in this being known publicly. Universities Scotland has not arranged any meetings with Ministers or officials through Charlotte Street Partners."