The First Minister has accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of insulting Scotland after appearing to praise former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Baroness Thatcher – who died in 2013 – presided over a privatisation agenda during her time in Downing Street in the 1980s which saw the decline of industry in Scotland, including coal mining and steel working.

Her administration has long been maligned by those on the left of the political spectrum.

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Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Sir Keir said the former prime minister “sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism”.

In the piece, the Labour leader also praised Sir Tony Blair, who he said “reimagined a stale, outdated Labour Party into one that could seize the optimism of the late 1990s”.

He named her alongside Mr Blair and former Labour prime ministers Clement Attlee as those leaders in modern British politics who sought to deliver “meaningful change” by acting “in service of the British people, rather than dictating to them”.

But Humza Yousaf attacked Sir Keir for the comments – which will be seen as an attempt to woo Conservative voters ahead of the next general election.

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“What Thatcher did to mining and industrial communities was not ‘entrepreneurialism’, it was vandalism,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.

“Starmer praising Thatcher is an insult to those communities in Scotland, and across the UK, who still bear the scars of her disastrous policies.”

The row comes as the SNP face an electoral challenge from a resurgent Labour party.

READ MORE: New poll puts Labour ahead of SNP for first time

Conflicting polls last week gave differing assessments of the two party's support among voters ahead of a general election expected next year.

One survey put the SNP ahead of Scottish Labour by 10 points in Westminster voting intentions, while another put Labour two points ahead.

Separate polls suggest Labour has a significant lead over the Conservatives in the race to Number 10.

The former Labour MSP Neil Findlay was furious with Sir Keir's intervention.

Writing on X, he called Sir Keir "an affront" to the Labour Party" who "betrays its historic mission".

He added: "What is the party under his ‘leadership’ offering working class voters ? The party is ahead in the polls not because of anything he has done."

Political commentator Steve Richards wrote on X: "When Labour leaders hail Thatcher and suggest there are Brexit benefits they begin to carve a path back for a right wing Conservative party even as it heads for immediate electoral slaughter.

"At the same time it blocks Labour from showing that the consequences of Thatcherism are still being played out..of making the connections between right wing ideas and the disruptive impact on voters’ lives.

"Deeper thinking required ( even for Telegraph readers..especially for Telegraph readers) than an attempt to copy Tony Blair in a different era."

Later speaking to the BBC Sir Keir said Mrs Thatcher had a “driving sense of purpose” although he made sure to stress his comments did not mean he agreed with what she did.

But he did appeal to Tory voters to make a switch at the next general election, urging them to “look again at Labour” as he criticised the Government for allowing the UK to “drift” over the last 13 years.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips on Sky News: “I think the public will see this for what it is.

“Don’t forget, he wasn’t appealing to Margaret Thatcher’s entrepreneurial spirit when he was courting votes from the hard-left.

“And I suspect the great lady herself would view a man that is trying to ride on the coattails of her success with the following words: ‘No, no, no’.”

Ms Atkins was referencing a 1990 Commons rebuke Mrs Thatcher gave to then European Commission boss Jacques Delors as he sought greater Brussels control.

Sir Keir, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, said: “The point I’m making in the article really is that you can distinguish political leaders, certainly in the post-war period, into those that had a plan and those that drifted essentially.

“And that’s why I referenced: Attlee, who obviously had a strong plan, New Jerusalem; Tony Blair, who captured the optimism of the 1990s having changed the Labour Party; and Thatcher, who did have a plan for entrepreneurialism, had a mission, it doesn’t mean I agree with what she did but I don’t think anybody could suggest that she didn’t have a driving sense of purpose.

“And the reason I referenced all three of them is because we’ve drifted as a country the last 13 years, we’ve declined as a country in the last 13 years, and the characteristic of an incoming Labour government – if we’re privileged enough to come in to serve – will be this sense of mission, this sense of having a plan that we’re operating to, a driving sense of purpose.”

Sir Keir said he has “fundamentally changed” Labour compared to the Jeremy Corbyn-led party defeated at the 2019 general election.

Sir Keir added: “What I say to those many people who will have voted Tory in the past is if you believe in not just fixing your country but renewing it and taking it forward, if you want to be part of a national project that will take our country forward, build up our economy in the way we want, build our security, make sure that we take advantage of the transition that comes with the energy transition, then the Labour Party is the party for you.

“I think there are many people in that camp who say ‘Look, I may have voted for the Tories in the past, but I do believe in my country, I do believe in a sense of purpose and the national mission is for me’.”

He added: “I do want to persuade those that have voted Tory in the past to vote Labour this time around, look again at Labour.”

Sir Keir was told that by saying such things, including about Mrs Thatcher and his stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict, he has left some Labour members feeling unrepresented.

He replied: “My focus, whether it’s on the renewal that our country needs or the resolution of the awful situation in Israel and Gaza is not on the Labour Party members and the Labour Party movement.

“We’ve spent a decade before I became leader obsessing about our membership and having a discussion with ourselves.

“My change of the Labour Party means we’ve turned inside out and we face the voters and face the country.”