A FORMER Labour first minister has branded Westminster’s behaviour towards the Scottish Parliament as an “assault on devolution” in a scathing interview.

Henry McLeish, who was first minister 2000 to 2001, called out the “political control and coercion” of the UK Government amid moves to suppress Scotland’s engagement with foreign representatives.

McLeish - who says he'll back independence if the Union isn't reformed - said Scottish Secretary Alister Jack should resign if he can’t stand up for Scotland against Westminster’s efforts to curb Holyrood’s international work.

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Guidance, issued last month by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, states that meetings between the Scottish Government and overseas ministers need to go through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Cleverly expressed fears over the Scottish Government promoting “separatism” or undermining Westminster policy during the meetings.

Shortly after, Tory peer and MP hopeful Lord Frost called for Scottish devolution to be reversed – then doubled down days later despite heavy criticism from his own party north of the Border.

McLeish hit out against the UK Government’s actions in an interview with The Herald.

The National: James Cleverly

"This letter [by James Cleverly, above] is part of a wider assault on devolution," he said.

"It's the contempt, the disrespect, but it's also about political control and coercion. This Tory government does not recognise the spirit of devolution and to me Cleverly was ill-advised to write this.”

He went on: “Donald Dewar and I knew that Scotland can become involved in international relations, so my advice to the Foreign Secretary is to withdraw the letter because it has no meaning and secondly if he doesn't withdraw it then I would advise the Scottish Government and the parliament to ignore the sentiments in it."

Suggesting Jack is a “willing ally” of the UK Government in undermining devolution, McLeish added: “My advice to him is to acknowledge that Cleverly's letter was a mistake. And if he doesn't then the Secretary of State for Scotland should consider his position.”

McLeish also recalled his time in office and promoting Scotland on the world stage.

"Donald Dewar and I had the view there was nothing stopping Scotland from operating on the world stage," he said.

"We had historical relations with the United States because of the diaspora and in 1998 the US Senate passed a motion declaring Tartan Day every year on April 6.

"I was determined we would start to impact on the global stage in a modest way."

In response, the SNP challenged Labour to defend Scotland’s interests or accept they will be seen as hand in glove with the Conservatives when it comes to Scotland.

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Commenting, the SNP's Fiona Hyslop said: "Alister Jack is acting like a Governor-General in Scotland – dictating what the democratically elected Scottish Parliament can and cannot do - and Labour is just as responsible as they continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories on denying the right of people in Scotland to choose a better future.

"Like the Henry McLeish, anyone who cares about Scotland's Parliament should be standing up and protecting it right now but just as Labour and the Tories are united in support of Brexit – they are united on maintaining Westminster control over Scotland at all costs.

The MSP for Linlithgow added: "Bizarrely, Keir Starmer is far more interested in styling himself as a 'conservative' than he is in protecting devolution.

"With two Westminster parties showing nothing but contempt for Scotland, it is clear that it is only through independence that we can protect the Scottish Parliament by getting rid of Tory governments people in Scotland don’t vote for - for good."

An spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office said: “Any suggestion that the UK Government is supressing Scotland’s voice from being heard internationally is absurd. The 800 staff based at FCDO’s joint HQ in East Kilbride are at the very heart of shaping and delivering UK foreign policy.

“The Scottish Government’s Constitution and External Affairs Secretary, Angus Robertson, recently praised the FCDO at the Scottish Affairs Committee for its strong record of supporting the devolved governments. Promoting every area of the UK is part of our DNA.

“The Foreign Secretary’s guidance will not change the UK Government’s commitment to working collaboratively with each of the devolved governments and their ministers in the delivery of devolved policy objectives, while ensuring reserved competences are fully respected.”