The First Minister joined her predecessor Alex Salmond on the campaign trail in Aberdeenshire and said the SNP would provide a check on Conservative power at Westminster.
On a visit to Dreams Daycare nursery in Insch, she said: “We’re here at a nursery highlighting the SNP’s policy to almost double state-funded childcare provision, helping young people get the best start in life and helping working families.
“That stands in stark contrast to the Conservatives who are taking child tax credits and working tax credits away from many working families, making their lives harder.”
She added: “We know Theresa May wants a free hand to do whatever she wants. We’ve got to make sure that there’s a check on the Tories, that there’s strong opposition and strong voices for Scotland standing up for progressive policies like this one, and that in Scotland can only come from the SNP.”
The Scottish Government currently provides 16 hours a week of free childcare for three- and four-years-olds and vulnerable two-years-olds, and has pledged increase this to 30 hours by 2020.
The nursery visit comes after the Prime Minister visited the north-east at the weekend and issued an appeal to Scottish voters who oppose independence, saying: “We want to ensure that we build a more secure and united nation.
“That means taking action against the extremists who would divide us and standing up against the separatists who want to break up our country.”
Ms Sturgeon warned the Conservatives to “watch their language” and accused Labour of focusing on independence due to a lack of positive policies after former chancellor Alistair Darling called on the SNP to rule out a second independence referendum while campaigning in Edinburgh.
She said: “It’s fine to have a robust debate, that’s what democracy and elections are all about, but using language that paints the SNP as something everybody knows we’re not, I think, is irresponsible.”
She added: “The issue at the heart of this election is whether you support independence or oppose independence - surely that decision should be taken by people in Scotland, by the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament, and not by a Tory government at Westminster.
“It tells you everything you need to know about Labour today. I’m here talking about childcare, Alistair Darling could be talking about health or education, but in the absence of positive Labour policies all he wants to talk about is the SNP.”