Dublin : Scotland's first minister has said the Australian prime minister's comments on Scottish independence were ‘foolish, hypocritical and offensive’.

Alex Salmond was speaking after Tony Abbott told the Times it was ‘hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland’. Mr Abbott said those who would like to see the UK break up were ‘not the friends of justice or freedom’. The first minister said this was offensive to the people of Scotland. Voters in Scotland will go to the polls on 18 September. They will be asked the ‘Yes/No’ question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The Scottish government believes the 300-year-old Union is no longer fit for purpose, but the UK government opposes the move, saying Britain is one of the world's most successful unions.

Mr Abbott told the Times: ‘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.’ 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. ‘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.’

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 said Scotland's referendum on independence was a ‘model of democratic conduct’ and Mr Abbott's comments were ‘offensive to the Scottish people’.