ALEX Salmond yesterday said 200,000 Scottish families would eventually benefit from his “childcare revolution” if Scots back independence in next year’s referendum.
The First Minister said those families would benefit by as much as £4,600 per child each year through free nursery care.
Outlining his target to give all children aged one and over free childcare that is the equivalent of time spent at primary school, Mr Salmond told MSPs: “Our ambition as a country is to make these levels of care available to all children from the age of one. It is a step that would benefit more than 200,000 families across Scotland, giving families a total saving of up to £4,600 per child per year.”
Mr Salmond made the claim as he urged voters to choose his vision of a fairer and more prosperous Scotland as envisaged by his blueprint for independence.
As MSPs debated the independence white paper, Mr Salmond signalled his determination to put childcare proposals at the heart of the battle for Scotland’s future.
Addressing Holyrood, Mr Salmond said £100 million would be set aside in the first budget after independence to provide 600 hours of childcare to around half of Scotland’s two-year-olds.
The next phase of the plan would see £600m invested in ensuring that all three- and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds are given up to 1,140 hours of childcare a year by the end of the first parliament.
On a day that saw the No campaign ridicule the lack of financial detail in the white paper, question marks remained over the pledge to give all children over one 1,140 hours of childcare by the end of 2024.
The Scottish Government declined to give a figure on how much the entire scheme would cost. Scottish Government officials said this was because the pledge would not be acted upon until the second parliament of an independent nation.
However, they did produce a briefing document detailing the positive benefits of this longer-term policy.
It claimed that the plan would, by the time it was enacted, save families £770m a year in childcare costs, create 35,000 jobs and – by allowing more women to go back to work – boost output in the economy by between £700m and £2.2 billion.
The SNP points to OECD figures which show that both Scotland and the UK have fewer women in work than countries such as Sweden, Norway and Finland. In 2012, Scotland had 71.9 per cent female labour market participation, compared with 73.2 per cent in Finland, 77.7 per cent in Sweden and 74.8 per cent in Norway.
The briefing paper said increasing the female participation rate by 2 per cent would boost economic output by £700m and increase tax revenues by £200m.
Matching Sweden’s female participation rate would add an extra £700m in tax revenue, the First Minister told parliament.
Mr Salmond’s opponents argued Scotland did not need to be independent for the childcare measures to be introduced and called on the government to implement them immediately.
But Mr Salmond countered by saying that Conservative plans to reduce income tax would blow a “vast hole” in the Scottish budget under the current constitutional settlement.
He also argued savings made from taking Trident out of Scotland after independence would free up cash to pay for nursery provision.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “We know the First Minister has a budget of more than £30bn and we stand ready to work with him to act on improved childcare now rather than after the referendum.”
During a stormy Holyrood debate on the day after Mr Salmond launched his white paper, the First Minister claimed that the referendum gave voters the choice between a fairer, more prosperous Scotland or the worst cuts in political history.
He said: “In next year’s referendum the people of Scotland will be asked to choose between two futures – between taking the future into our own hands or continuing to allow key aspects of Scottish life to be controlled by Westminster governments.
“The government has set out our case for an independent Scotland. What we want to hear from the Unionist parties, Better Together, is how big is the Better Together raid going to be on the Scottish Budget if Scotland votes No.”
Former Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said it was an “irony” that “the much-vaunted guide for the journey to independence is an extraordinary brew of fantasy, fiction, wishlist, freebies with no price tag and cop-outs.”
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