HOLYROOD’S first ‘transparency tsar’ is at the centre of a cronyism row after it emerged the job was handed to a parliament insider without ever being advertised.

Billy McLaren, a career civil servant who had been the Presiding Officer’s private secretary, has become the new Lobbying Registrar on a salary of up to £63,400 a year.

His role is to “improve transparency” by setting up a register of contacts between lobbyists and MSPs, ministers, special advisers and the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary.

However the appointment has itself been criticised for a lack of transparency.

The full-time position, which comes with a salary between £51,635 and £63,443, was never openly advertised.

Instead, Mr McLaren was “redeployed” without any external recruitment exercise.

The decision, which fell under the remit of Holyrood chief executive Sir Paul Grice, was taken in July and Mr McLaren started in the role on 23 September.

However the parliament did not publicly reveal the appointment until this week.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay, whose campaign for greater openness led to the recent Lobbying (Scotland) Act and the creation of the register, said it looked like an “establishment stitch-up”.

A civil servant in both the UK and Scottish Governments for almost 30 years, Mr McLaren was part of Donald Dewar’s private office team when he was both Secretary of State for Scotland and Scotland’s first First Minister.

He has worked at the Scottish Parliament since 2009, first as head of its International Relations team, and then as Principal Private Secretary to the Presiding Officer.

In March, he was praised by former PO Tricia Marwick in her farewell speech to MSPs.

“My special thanks go to my principal private secretary, Billy McLaren, who has been a calming influence and who has, together with Paul Grice, given me wise advice and counsel,” she said.

In line with the Lobbying (Scotland) Act, Sir Paul, as the parliament’s clerk, was ultimately in charge of appointing Mr McLaren as the Registrar.

Mr McLaren will have one member of staff to assist him with the IT procurement and creation of the new register, which is expected to be up and running by late 2017 or early 2018.

Mr Findlay said: "The lobbying register is supposed to be about openness and transparency. It’s hardly a brilliant start when we have what looks like an establishment stitch up from the outset."

Willie Sullivan, of the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, said his organisation had been “surprised” by the backstairs deal.

“We would have been preferred it to be an open selection process so the parliament could have chosen from a range of people, and perhaps someone not seen as close to politicians.

“What they have done by doing it this way is possibly exclude someone better for the role.”

The Scottish Parliament said appointing an existing member of staff with the experience and skills to fill the post had spared the public the cost of a recruitment exercise.

A spokesman said: “The Act makes clear the Chief Executive of the Parliament is responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the register.

“The registrar undertakes his duty under the Chief Executive's authority and is therefore an employee of the Parliament.

“The post was therefore filled through a recruitment process. An existing member of Parliament staff was appointed to the post.”