Future in Scotland's hands: Salmond
Scotland's First Minister has launched his Government's blueprint for independence and told voters that the country's future was now in their hands.
In its 650-page long White Paper, Alex Salmond said his Scottish Government had set out its "mission statement" on how creating a separate Scotland could help build a better nation.
Published some 10 months before the independence referendum on September 18 2014, the document details how leaving the UK - and the policies the SNP would hope to pursue if Scotland were to do so - would impact on all aspects of life.
But it was quickly dismissed by those campaigning to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom as a "wish list" which failed to answer the big questions.
The White Paper confirms that in the event of a Yes vote next September an agreement would have to be reached with British ministers to share the pound in a ''sterling zone''.
It asserts that Scotland would negotiate for a smooth transition to formal European Union (EU) statehood in its own right by independence day - already earmarked for March 24 2016.
It also makes a series of pledges to be fulfilled if the SNP forms the first government in a newly-independent Scotland, including scrapping the so-called "bedroom tax", simplifying the tax system, cutting corporation tax and removing Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland within the first term of an independent parliament.
Key among the pledges is a "transformational" extension of free childcare that would see every three and four-year-old and vulnerable two-year-olds entitled to 1,140 hours of free care a year - the equivalent of 30 hours a week over 38 weeks.
As well as helping children, Nationalist politicians believe this will boost the economy by creating some 35,000 new jobs and by helping more parents - particularly women - back to work.
Mr Salmond hailed the white paper, entitled Scotland's Future: Your Guide To An Independent Scotland, as the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published.
''But more than that, it is a mission statement and a prospectus for the kind of country we should be and which this Government believes we can be,'' he declared.
Speaking at the launch in Glasgow, he added: ''Scotland's future is now in Scotland's hands.''
But critics rounded on the childcare pledge, claiming the Scottish Government already had the powers to put such provisions in place.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont claimed youngsters were being ''denied the chance of proper care until their parents vote the way the SNP want them to'' while Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson branded it ''retail politics'' in a bid to persuade Scots to vote to leave the UK.
However, Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted the policy could only be implemented with independence.
"If we want to make not just incremental increases, but make a transformational change in the provision of childcare, then we do need to access the increased revenues that flow from that policy," she said.
Ms Sturgeon said if an independent Scotland had a similar number of women in the workforce to Sweden, this could generate an extra £700 million a year in taxes to fund such a policy.
She insisted: "'That's the reason you need independence to do this. It's the kind of ambitious, transformational, life-changing policy that independence gives us the ability to do.''
Dennis Canavan, a former Labour MP who is now chair of the pro-independence group Yes Scotland's advisory board, said the publication of the white paper was "the most significant milestone so far'' on the journey towards next year's referendum.
He declared: ''As the starting point of an independent nation, this comprehensive blueprint sets out the principles of why Scotland's future in Scotland's hands is the right choice."
But former chancellor Alistair Darling, who leads the pro-UK Better Together campaign, accused the Scottish Government of having "ducked the opportunity to answer the big questions about Scotland's future" such as currency and taxes.
He said: "We have waited months for this and it has failed to give credible answers on fundamentally important questions. What currency would we use? Who will set our mortgage rates? How much would taxes have to go up? How will we pay pensions and benefits in future?"
Mr Darling added: "It is a fantasy to say we can leave the UK but still keep all the benefits of UK membership. The white paper is a work of fiction. It is thick with false promises and meaningless assertions.''
Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael, the UK Government's Scottish Secretary, said the SNP administration had presented people with a wish list.
''With a wish list there ought to have come a price list but that is absent yet again,'' he said.
Mr Carmichael claimed the document left voters ''none the wiser'' on many issues, saying: "The Scottish Government have deliberately sought to ignore the uncertainties and difficulties of independence. We are simply expected to believe that everything will be perfect after we leave the UK.
''We are asked to accept that ending a 300-year United Kingdom will be straightforward. We are told it will all be all right on the night.''
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Far from being a prospectus for a new independent nation, by failing to answer many vital questions Alex Salmond's White Paper actually makes the case for the Union."
He added: "If Scotland wants to keep the pound the only way to guarantee that is to stay in the UK."