NICOLA Sturgeon spent almost £2million of public money on a record 18 political spindoctors in her last year as First Minister, it has emerged.

The Scottish Government today confirmed the bill for her handpicked team of special advisers, or SpAds, was £1,909,843 in 2022/23, the highest figure seen under devolution, and double the bill when she became FM.

The bill for Humza Yousaf’s SpAd team is likely to be similar, although the line-up has yet to be finalised.

Scottish Labour called the costs "morallly indefensible", and accused the government of trying to "bury bad news" over a bank holiday weekend.

The SpAd bill for 2021/22 was considerably less, at £1,434,693, despite the two extra advisers joining as part of the SNP-Green joint government deal.

The last known bill for UK Government SpAds was £12.7m for 126 people in 2021/22, suggesting the UK's per capita costs are higher.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats accused the SNP of “spinning faster than a tornado”.

The numbers suggest Ms Sturgeon’s former chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, kept her six-figure salary when she left the role in August 2021 to become the FM’s “strategic adviser”. 

Colin McAllister, Ms Sturgeon’s new chief of staff, who is now working for Mr Yousaf, then moved up to the same pay band as Ms Lloyd, which was £101,088 to £107,149 last year.

This is more than a Scottish Government minister is paid.

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Appointed by the First Minister, SpAds are temporary civil servants who do not have to abide by civil service neutrality rules and can offer explicitly political advice.

Most of the current crop all have a long history of involvement in the SNP or Greens.

The annual figures were released by the government through a parliamentary answer.

Parliamentary business minister George Adam said the cost of special advisers employed in 2020/21 was £1,618,713, which included all salary costs, employer national insurance and employer pension contributions.

There were 15 SpAds in 2020/21: one in the £50,839 to £53,208 pay band; eight on £55,583 to £68,307; five on £70,391 to £90,564; and one, Ms Lloyd, on £96,400 to £102,228.

In 2021/22 there were 17 SpAds: one on £51,348 to £53,741; 11 on £56,139 to £68,991; four on £71,095 to £91,364; and two on £97,200 to £103,028.

In 2022/23, there were 18 SpAds: one on £53,915 to £56,428; ten on £58,946 to £72,441; five on £74,650 to £95,019; and two on £101,088 to £107,149. 

In MS Sturgeon's first full year as FM, 2014/15, she had 14 special advisers who cost £952,865.

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “People will be appalled that the cost of employing SNP spin doctors has surged by a third in the space of a year, to a whopping £2million of taxpayers’ cash. This is living proof that the SNP prioritises spin over substance at every turn.

“It tells you all you need to know about the SNP’s skewed priorities that, as the Scottish government they lead imposes swingeing cuts to vital public services, the bill for special advisors is soaring.

“Families struggling with household bills and rising energy costs will rightly be furious. 

“It’s not even as if this shameful squandering of public money is bearing fruit. Given the SNP’s descent into civil war, the advice they’re getting is either terrible or being ignored. Whichever it is, the Scottish public shouldn’t be footing the bill.”

Scottish LibDem MSP WIllie Rennie said: “Rather than solve problems, the SNP is spinning them faster than a tornado.  

“These eye-watering sums would be far better spent on battling the crisis in our NHS, cleaning up the sewage in our rivers and beaches and getting islanders the ferries that have never arrived.  

“Right now, the SNP is far more bothered about saving its own skin than helping anyone else.”

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Scottish Labour finance spokesperson Michael Marra said: “At a time when thousands of Scots are struggling to make ends meet and parents are being forced to skip meals, the fact that the bill for government SpAds is soaring is morally indefensible.

“This attempt to bury bad news ahead of a bank holiday weekend has backfired spectacularly.

This is symbolic of the SNP government’s skewed priorities – cutting funding for vital sectors while bolstering the ranks of spin doctors and apparatchiks.

“The fact is that the only job creation scheme that the SNP has succeeded in implementing is one for government SpAds. This is a bloated government that is out of touch with the people of Scotland."

The figures are released proactively by the government every year. 

It is possible the 2022/23 figures were inflated by several SpAds leaving the government after Ms Sturgeon officially demitted office at the end of March.