NICOLA Sturgeon’s top economic adviser has warned her against a universal citizen’s income, saying public money would be better targeted at the poor and on creating jobs.

Nobel prize winner Professor Joseph Stiglitz said he worried a citizen’s income would eat up scarce funds and distract from the bigger priority of well-paid employment.

Prof Stiglitz, who is based at Columbia University in New York, is the highest profile member of Ms Sturgeon’s Council of Economic Advisers.

His comments are awkward for the First Minister, who said on Friday that she would press ahead with research on a citizen’s income despite scepticism among her own officials.

Preliminary work suggested it could cost £3.6bn a year net and lead to soaring tax rises.

Ms Sturgeon, who admitted the idea “might not turn out to be feasible” was accused of pandering to the Greens ahead of the budget, as they have long championed the idea.

A radical alternative to the social security system, a citizen’s income would see everyone, regardless of wealth, paid a non-taxable, non-means tested payment from cradle to grave instead of benefits, bar those for disability and possibly housing.

Advocates say it may be needed to stabilise society as automation destroys traditional jobs.

Speaking on BBC Sunday Politics Scotland, Prof Stiglitz said a citizen’s income recognised social protection was for all of society, not just “those who have been left behind”.

However he went on: “But I do worry about two things - one, there’s fiscal constraints.

“Should this scarce money be used to give everybody a basic amount or should it be targeted at those who have particularly strong needs?

“I think there needs to be some targeting.

“Secondly, over the long run, our responsibility as a society is to make sure everybody who wants a job can get one. The underlying problems of lack of employment and lack of adequate pay - anybody who works full time ought to have a liveable income - those are the issues that in the long run we need to address.”

Prof Stiglitz, who advises the UK Labour party, also appeared more ambivalent towards Scottish independence since the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as an alternative to the Tories.

He said he was “convinced” by the case for independence in 2014, but if the issue was a live one today he would merely be “sympathetic towards it”.

He said a disorderly Brexit “would reinforce the argument that maybe Scotland ought to go its own way”, but the public’s focus was more on Brexit than independence.

"Where you are now the argument for independence is stronger, but [it] is very hard for a polity to engage in two major issues at one time, and right now the focus seems to be on Brexit."

However he was more positive towards SNP demands for devolved immigration policy to attract people with the right skills to work in the Scottish economy.

He said there were “fundamental differences in values and economic needs” on either side of the border, and it was “an appropriate issue to be on the table, that Scotland should have the power to go its own way on migration policy”.

Asked on the same programme about Prof Stiglitz’s remarks on a citizen’s income, SNP MP Stuart C McDonald said he attracted “enormous respect” but “that’s his view and others have a different view”.

He said: “I think the Scottish Government has taken absolutely the right approach. It’s looking into the pros and cons and will come to a reasoned conclusion in due course.”

The Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster is conducting an inquiry into immigration.

One of its members, Tory MP Paul Masterton said he did not have a “dead set view” on whether immigration policy should be devolved and would listen to the evidence.

He said: “We want to test some of the assumptions and claims being made on both sides of the argument, and really try to drill down into the evidence.

“Is this a pan-UK sector issue and post-Brexit do we need a flexible policy by sector, or is there something unique to Scotland which the current framework isn’t quite delivering on?”