ALEX Salmond yesterday laid out his vision for independence with the publication of a historic white paper which, he said, gives voters the opportunity to build a “better Scotland”.
Describing the 649-page document as a “mission statement” for the future, Mr Salmond claimed independence would trigger a “revolution” in social policy, paid for by an economic surge that would follow from shifting powers to Edinburgh.
Presenting the paper, Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, which doubles as an SNP manifesto for an independent Scottish Government, the First Minister set out a raft of policies he hopes will tempt voters into the Yes camp.
Chief among those was a bid to win over women voters with free term-time childcare for all three and four-year-olds.
Mr Salmond also promised to scrap the coalition government’s welfare reforms including the controversial “bedroom tax”.
The white paper contained a promise to remove Trident from Scottish waters as well as pledges to keep the pound and replace BBC Scotland with a Scottish Broadcasting Service.
But with scant costings provided in the document, opponents launched a fierce attack on the “assertions” contained in the SNP case, claiming that the white paper marked “the beginning of the end for the Yes campaign”, which continues to trail the No camp in polls.
The publication of the white paper marked a milestone in the marathon referendum campaign, and is the final proposal that the SNP government is making to voters prior to the vote on 18 September next year.
Mr Salmond claimed it represented “the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published, not just for Scotland but for any prospective independent nation”.
He added: “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.
“Our vision is of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations. However, we do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better”.
Writing in the document, Mr Salmond said: “People down the decades have wondered if a country blessed with such wealth, talent and resources could and should have done more to realise the potential we know exists for everyone.
“Those generations could only imagine a better Scotland. Our generation has the opportunity to stop imagining and start building the better Scotland we all know is possible.”
In exhaustive detail, the paper sets out policy positions across the range of government responsibility, insisting that the pound will stay, the National Lottery will remain and popular BBC and ITV programmes will continue to be screened after a Yes vote.
Scotland would also be welcomed into the EU and Nato, the document declared, without providing firm evidence. The paper revealed that membership of the latter would mean that, while Trident would be removed from the Clyde, Nato vessels would be allowed into Scottish waters without confirming or denying that they were carrying nuclear weapons.
In another controversial section, the white paper declared that an independent Scotland would continue to charge English students tuition fees – even though EU rules stipulate that foreign students should receive the same funding deal as those domiciled at home.
But at the core of the paper was a raft of domestic policy reforms proposed if an SNP government is elected in 2016, after a Yes vote.
Mr Salmond said he accepted that, after a Yes vote, voters could opt for a different government. If they elected an SNP administration, however, he said measures would include a plan to scrap the marriage tax allowance and a pledge to end the introduction of universal credit.
However, the most eye-catching proposal was the bid to vastly increase childcare. The pledge came with the pro- independence case struggling to attract women to back a Yes vote, with some polls showing a gap of ten points between the sexes. By 2025, the document proposed, all three and four-year-old children, together with vulnerable two-year-olds, would be given the same amount of free care as given to primary school children, a plan which would require 35,000 jobs.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon claimed the move would allow women the freedom to work without worrying about the costs of looking after children.
However, the plan triggered a furious reaction from opponents last night, who said there was nothing to stop the proposal being introduced now. Childcare is devolved to the Scottish Government.
Their anger was stoked further after Ms Sturgeon said: “If we did this now then the revenues would flow straight to the UK Treasury rather than staying here in Scotland to help us fund that policy, to help us support that properly. That is why we need the full powers of independence.”
Mr Salmond found himself pressed repeatedly on warnings that the rest of the UK would reject his cornerstone plan to form a “sterlingzone” after Scottish independence.
Refusing to countenance a “Plan B” – either joining the euro or forming a separate currency – he insisted that UK politicians were “posturing” and would back a sterlingzone out of “enlightened self-interest”.
However, senior economists warned that an acknowledgement in the white paper that an independent Scotland may choose a different currency had “exposed” the plan as “fragile”.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont described the contents as “assertion and uncertainty”.
The paper received a curt response from Downing Street with no official comment from Prime Minister David Cameron.
Alistair Darling, leader of Better Together said: “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?”
Ruth Davidson, the Scots Tory leader, added: “The Scottish Government spends little more than two pages in a 650-page document outlining a currency position. Even those two pages are riddled with assumptions the SNP is in no position to deliver.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “We’ve been handed a compendium of existing assertions and a glossary of uncosted policies.”
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