ALEX Salmond has slammed the Australian prime minister's attack on the notion of Scottish independence as "foolish, hypocritical and offensive".

The First Minister spoke out after Tony Abbott became the latest international leader to become involved in the debate. He was quoted as saying it was "hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland".

Abbott said: "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."

Abbott has connections to David Cameron's key political strategist, Lynton Crosby.

Crosby's business partner Mark Textor, with whom he founded lobbyists Crosby Textor, is the Australian PM's polling guru.

Salmond responded: "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."

Salmond said the Australian prime minister was "notoriously gaffe-prone" and he had "put his foot right in it" with his comments.

Meanwhile, shadow international development secretary Jim Murphy played down Abbott's remarks.

The Labour MP, who was campaigning for Better Together in Clydebank, said Australians were "famously outspoken and famously direct".

But Murphy said that "ultimately Scots will make their own decision".