The SNP has unveiled plans for a “revolution” in childcare under its blueprint for independence set out in the white paper today.
It aims to get a generation of women back into the workplace by giving youngsters from the age of three onwards - and all vulnerable two year-olds - full-time childcare paid for by the state by 2020.
And by the end of the second Parliament in 2024, all children from the age of one to school age will be given free full-time childcare of 1,140 hours.
About 600 hours of childcare will be provided to half of two year-olds in the first budget after independence, the document states.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Our employment and social policy proposals contained in this guide, including the revolution in childcare, show what is possible.
“It illustrates how the powers of independence can be used to benefit individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole - and it has economic growth, jobs and fairness at its heart.
But Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the SNP has the power to change childcare under the current devolved set-up, but Scotland has the “worst childcare arrangements in the UK.
“In England thousands of two year-olds have a nursery place today but the Scottish Government say children here will have to wait three more years,” he said.
“Delaying better childcare until after the referendum won’t convince families that the Scottish Government fully understands the urgent need for early education.”