Former First Minister Henry McLeish has said the country is “more divided than it has been in 25 years” and described relations between Holyrood and Westminster as “rock bottom”.

Mr McLeish was first minister between 2000 and 2001, and recalled easy communications with then-prime minister Tony Blair, as well as the late home secretary Robin Cook, who facilitated him visiting the White House and the Vatican.

Giving evidence at the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster as part of the inquiry into intergovernmental relations, Mr McLeish said: “It might have lulled us into a false sense that it would always be like this.”

He said in the years since ex-prime minister Boris Johnson took office in 2019 there has been “a lack of respect for the potential devolution holds”, and described a “pitched battle” between unionism and nationalism.

The ex-Scottish Labour leader recalled being able to pick up the phone to Mr Blair or Mr Cook during difficult situations, and said: “That degree of networking was absolutely solid to developing devolution in Scotland.”

READ MORE: John Swinney becomes Scotland's seventh First Minister

Mr McLeish said “disrespect” from prime ministers including Boris Johnson, Lis Truss and Rishi Sunak, was “costing Scotland”, and described the political environment as “unproductive”.

He added: “Arrogance within the House here does not stand devolution in good stead and alienates people.”

Mr McLeish said from 2007 the SNP had been “electorally successful” but the country had “stalled”, and added: “Relations in my judgement between Holyrood and Westminster have reached rock bottom.”

He said: “The country is more divided than it has been in 25 years and the issue of independence, in my judgment, is going nowhere. There’s an opportunity to reset about where the issue of devolution might be.

“My view is that we need some rules of the game now and we don’t have any. If I’m an ex-politician and I see a public policy issue end up in the Supreme Court, then democracy has failed. You need rules of the game if players are behaving badly.”

Another former first minister, Lord McConnell, who represented Scottish Labour and led Scotland between 2001 and 2007, said the smoking ban was only accepted due to devolution, and described it as “the moment Parliament came of age”.

Lord McConnell said: “The reason it happened successfully was it was Scotland making decisions for itself. Public decision was split about 50/50 but the people of Scotland accepted a decision they did not want because it had been made by their elected representatives.”

He told the inquiry he believed civil servants should be doing two-year stints in the devolved nations and in London, and said the political landscape since 2015 lacked “purpose” compared to predecessors.

Lord McConnell added: “Whatever people might think of different decisions by New Labour or the coalition, I think that period of government had a sense of purpose on trying to impact everyday lives and improve our country which has not existed since 2015.

“We made sure those early years were very very productive. I think my immediate successors had a strategy for having an Scottish Government which was seen to deliver good changes for Scotland as a way to campaign for independence.”

READ MORE: Tories link Grangemouth stay of execution to scrapping of Bute House Agreement

Giving evidence, he said “intergovernmental relationship structure needs to change”, and praised New Labour figureheads including David Blunkett and Charles Clarke for their enthusiasm and understanding of devolution.

Mr McConnell said: “I think there should be a rule if you’re in UK civil service it should be compulsory you’ve spent two years in a devolved government and the same in Scotland that you spend time in London.

“The inter-governmental relationship structure needs to change – understanding, knowledge, people being able to talk to each other; having some kind of rules in place that mean people have the contacts and the knowledge that you get by sharing an office with somebody.”

He said Scotland’s next First Minister John Swinney would “need to be honest about the problems Scotland faces, and “can’t produce jobs with headlines or fancy slogans”.

Mr McConnell said: “There were some Scottish MPs who were unhappy about the smoking ban but it didn’t stop it happening. What’s sad I think is that over time the new generations of politicians have not had that personal experience which enables them to understand what happens elsewhere.”

Asked to give advice to Mr Swinney, he said: “As first minister of Scotland, people don’t want you to let them down.”