Scotland will be the best country in the world to raise families if voters back independence next year, First Minister Alex Salmond has said.
A Yes vote will get a generation of mothers back to work through universal childcare, according to the SNP leader who urged Scots not to wake up the day after the referendum regretting what might have been.
But concerns over the risks of leaving the UK were expressed by pro-Union leaders who called for the Scottish Government to be open about the drawbacks.
In his New Year message, Mr Salmond said Scots have the “opportunity of a lifetime” when they go to the polls on 18 September next year. “Let’s not wake up on the morning of 19 September next year and think to ourselves what might have been. Let’s wake up on that morning filled with hope and expectation – ready to build a just and prosperous nation,” he said.
The people of Scotland are the country’s “greatest asset”, he added. “Let’s transform childcare in this country – unleashing the full potential of all of our working age population, and helping us become the best place anywhere in the world to raise a family,” he added. The debate about Scotland’s future should be a “constructive one” in which campaigners “respect each other’s views, regardless of how passionately we hold our own”, said the First Minister, who delivered his New Year message at the National Library in Edinburgh.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the independence question will take “centre stage in Scottish political life in the year ahead.” The Liberal Democrat Coalition minister urged Scots to “examine in detail the case being put forward” by Nationalists and “press for answers”.
The prospect of Scotland keeping the pound, how exports to England would be hit and EU entry were all raised by Mr Carmichael. He added: “We cannot accept answers that say ‘It will be alright on the night.’ This is our future. This is a year when we all need to use our head, not a hunch. This is a time for evidence not evasion.”
Labour leader Johann Lamont questioned how others will view the independence debate. “Will they see a healthy and invigorating debate about how we best co-operate and engage with our neighbours and exercise power to make a difference?” she asked.
“Or will they see a bad-tempered debate, mired in bitterness and grievance? Will they see a divided country which has turned in on itself?”
Politicians on both sides of the argument have “a duty to show the best of Scotland and shape the debate to ensure it is inspiring”. Politicians, like the athletes taking part in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, must “up our game and rise to the occasion”, she added.
Tory leader Ruth Davidson said the choice offered to voters in the independence referendum was “stark”. “On the one hand is the irreversible break of independence, an end to the economic and social union between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland: a partnership that has flourished for more than three centuries,” she said.
“On the other is a choice to renew that partnership of nations and further strengthen devolution; a positive vote for working together to secure a prosperous future for the people of Scotland and of all parts of the United Kingdom.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “I am confident we’ll reaffirm Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom family of nations so we can share risk and reward for generations to come. We won’t undermine the progress by splitting Scotland from the UK.”
CBI calls for ‘open and realistic’ account of risks and costs
The Scottish Government must be “open and realistic” about any risks and costs of independence, business leaders have warned. Iain McMillan, director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Scotland, said in a New Year message that companies are concerned about issues such as currency and EU membership.
He said: “Businesses are troubled by the risks and costs involved and, in 2014, the Scottish Government must also be open and realistic with business and the people who elected them in acknowledging this.”
He also highlighted cost fears for firms if new tax systems and regulations were to be introduced. But the pro-independence body Business for Scotland dismissed the CBI claims and said support for the Yes vote is growing among firms. Board member Tony Banks, who is founder and head of Balhousie Care Group, said: “It is simply not credible for the No campaign to blame its lack of traction with the business community on fear of the Scottish Government.
“The CBI seems to have backed this but its Director in Scotland does not speak for his members on this issue.”