Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond says it is insulting, hypocritical and foolish for Tony Abbott to suggest that Scotland quitting the United Kingdom would be a victory for the enemies of justice and freedom.
The Australian prime minister’s comments are the strongest yet by a major foreign leader on the Scottish independence debate.
“He’s previously insulted the indigenous people of Australia, he’s insulted women in Australia, now he’s insulting Scots Australians – I don’t know if there’ll be anybody left for Mr Abbott to insult,” Mr Salmond told the BBC on Saturday.
“Mr Abbott’s comments are hypocritical because independence does not seem to have done Australia any harm.
“They are foolish, actually, because of the way he said it. To say the people of Scotland who supported independence weren’t friends of freedom or justice, I mean, the independence process is about freedom and justice.”
Opinion polls suggest 38 per cent of those who intend to vote in the September 18 referendum will back independence. The No vote currently sits at 46 per cent.
Mr Abbott prefaced his controversial remarks by stating “not for a moment do I presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote”.
“But as a friend of Britain, as an observer from afar, it’s hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland,” Mr Abbott told British newspaper The Times on Saturday.
“I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom, and the countries that would cheer at the prospect … are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.”
A spokesman for Yes Scotland told the BBC: “These comments have echoes of Lord George Robertson’s ‘forces of darkness’ speech in April which was widely ridiculed, even by No supporters, as one of the anti-independence campaign’s most outlandish scare stories.”
US President Barack Obama last month backed the union saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, during a visit to London in June, also said he wanted a “strong, prosperous and united, United Kingdom”.
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd in March used an address at Oxford University to suggest Scotland’s push for independence was flawed because it benefited from being part of the United Kingdom.
The Times on Saturday noted, however, that Mr Abbott’s intervention was “the first time that the debate has been cast as one of western liberalism against its enemies”.
Mr Abbott was in London earlier this week following a 24-hour visit to the Netherlands to thank those involved in identifying the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight 17.
In the English capital he met with UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to discuss the ongoing conflict in Iraq.