SCOTLAND’S foremost independence supporter, Alex Salmond, has rounded on Tony Abbott for opposing withdrawal by the oil-rich country from the United Kingdom, describing the Australian Prime Minister’s comments as “foolish, hypocritical and offensive”.
Mr Abbott had said Scottish independence was favoured by those who were “not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom”.
Mr Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party in the regional parliament formed after devolution, was speaking to the BBC yesterday.
Mr Salmond said Mr Abbott was “notoriously gaffe-prone” and he had “put his foot right in it” with his comments, the BBC reported.
Mr Salmond added, according to the BBC: “If it does anything, it will persuade people to vote Yes because the natural reaction to this sort of nonsense is ‘who is Mr Abbott to lecture Scots on freedom and justice?’”
Scotland goes to the polls on September 18 to decide whether to break away from the 307-year-old, London-led union. YouGov’s latest poll last week shows Yes at 35 per cent and No at 55 per cent, although some polls have shown just a small No majority.
Mr Abbott’s comments to The Times of London, published yesterday, are said to be the strongest yet by a major foreign leader on the Scottish independence debate, but follow calls from US President Barack Obama to keep the union intact.
“What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots and not for a moment do I presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote,” Australia’s Prime Minister told the newspaper.
“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 said.
“I think that the people who would like to see the breakup of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the breakup with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep,” Mr Abbott said.
Mr Obama last month backed the union, saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He said the US had a “deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner”.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang has said during a visit to Britain he wanted to see a “united United Kingdom”.
Mr Abbott, interviewed by The Times last week, also said he was “an incorrigible Anglophile”.
“I do love England,” he said, and described his two years at the University of Oxford as “in some ways the most magical two years of my life”.
He showered praise on Scotland too, describing the Scottish enlightenment as the “intellectual foundation for so much of what’s best in the modern world”.
Later Mr Salmond told BBC Scotland: “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,” the first minister told the BBC.
The first minister said Scotland’s referendum on independence was a “model of democratic conduct” and Mr Abbott’s comments were “offensive to the Scottish people”, the BBC reported.
Mr Abbott was in Britain last week after visiting The Netherlands to discuss the downing of MH17 in Ukraine.
He held talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.