The Scottish Government has appointed an expert on European law to help them engage with the European Union (EU) in the run-up to the independence referendum.
Drew Scott, professor of EU studies at Edinburgh University, will advise ministers on European treaties as they prepare to negotiate the terms of entry into the EU if Scotland votes yes to independence.
But his appointment has sparked accusations of "cronyism" as Mr Scott is the partner of Aileen McLeod, former head of policy to SNP MEP Alyn Smith and currently an SNP MSP.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Prof Scott's counsel will be invaluable to ministers during his part-time secondment, which is expected to last two years.
She said: "Andrew Scott is an extremely eminent academic and one of the leading experts on the EU anywhere in Scotland. I am therefore absolutely delighted that he has agreed to offer his considerable expertise to ministers in the run-up to the referendum."
Prof Scott said: "I am very pleased to be joining the Scottish Government on secondment to help deliver a European engagement strategy and to provide expertise on EU institutions, treaties and policies that will underpin the Scottish Government's approach to defining options for the future."
The appointment follows a recent admission by the Scottish Government that, until recently, it had taken no "specific" legal advice on EU membership after independence.
It took the Information Commissioner to court to prevent the non-existence of the legal advice becoming known, and only relented after a costly round of preliminary legal proceedings.
The SNP administration believes it can negotiate Scotland's terms of entry into the EU in under a year and half, in the time between the referendum and their proposed Independence Day in March 2016.
Critics say this timescale is over-ambitious given the complexities of EU treaties and the politics of other member states, particularly those with separatist movements.
Scotland would face negotiations over the Schengen free travel area, which has the potential to create a land border with England, the euro currency and the UK's budget rebate.
Scottish ministers recently welcomed comments by UK Government advisor Professor James Crawford describing their timescale as "realistic" and suggesting that the EU negotiations may not necessarily be difficult.
Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: "It's a shame the SNP's new special adviser on Europe hasn't been around this past year.
"Alex Salmond has clearly been lacking even the most basic advice when it comes to the EU.
"This won't repair the damage already done by the Scottish Government's complacent attitude on Europe.
"It has shown it can't be trusted to ask the simplest of questions on EU entry and has gone to extraordinary length to cover up those shortcomings.
"People want the Scottish Government to be honest on the issue of Europe and this cronyism will do nothing to improve the situation."
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