The Scottish Government has published its white paper on independence, outlining how it believes a Yes vote in next year’s referendum could pave the way for a new era for the nation.
The long-awaited document said there are “three overriding reasons” for Scotland to leave the UK and become a separate state.
It claimed independence will create a more democratic Scotland, as well as a country that is both more prosperous and fairer.
The 670-page paper sets out how independence could have an impact on all areas of life, including currency, taxation, childcare and education, pensions, welfare, defence and broadcasting.
The SNP administration also sets out a number of promises if it was elected as the first government of a newly-independent Scotland, with Nationalists pledging “transformational extension of childcare” to help working parents, a cut in corporation tax to boost business and a simplified and fairer tax system.
They also pledge to end controversial welfare reforms brought in by Westminster by axing the so-called “bedroom tax” and halting the roll-out of Universal Credit and personal independence payments.
The independence referendum, to be held on September 18 next year, gives voters “a choice between two futures”, the paper states.
A Yes vote will mean “the most important decisions about our economy and society will be taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is by the people of Scotland”.
It adds that “the door will open to a new era for our nation. Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands”.
But it claims a vote in favour of staying part of the UK would mean that “Scotland stands still”.
As a result of that, the paper states a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to follow a different path and choose a new and better direction for our nation is lost”.
First Minister Alex Salmond said the document shows the country will start from a position of strength.
He outlined the case for independence at the formal launch of the document at the Glasgow Science Centre.
“We’d become independent in more promising circumstances than virtually any other nation in history,” he said.
“That reflects our underlying economic strength. An independent Scotland could have the eighth highest economic output and the 10th highest national income per head of population in the whole of the developed world.
“We have contributed more in taxes per person than the rest of the UK for every single one of the last 32 years.”
It also reflects potential based on “world-class” universities, energy resources and a skilled and inventive people, he said.
But major challenges will also have to be overcome.
“We’ll have to tackle a legacy of debt, of low growth, of social inequality, bequeathed to us by Westminster control of our economy,” he said.
“To break out of that system requires the ability and powers to mobilise and invest in our natural and human resources.”
Renewable energy and better childcare are among the areas the Scottish Government wants to focus on.
Mr Salmond said the paper provided the answers to 650 detailed questions on independence.
He continued: “Ultimately at the heart of this debate there is only one question and one choice.
“Do we, the people who live and work in Scotland, believe that we are the best people to take decisions about Scotland’s future?
“That question will be the subject of an impassioned and, I hope, positive debate between now and next September.”
He added: “As First Minister, I want everyone, whatever their viewpoint, to play their part in thinking about the sort of country we wish to become.
“That’s the most important thing about this referendum. It won’t be decided by me, it won’t be decided by our opponents, it won’t be decided by the media - it will be decided by the people.
“Scotland’s future is now in Scotland’s hands.”
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who accompanied him on stage at the formal launch, said the country will take its place in the “family of nations” on March 24 2016.
“Scotland’s future is a forward-looking, ambitious and aspirational guide to the opportunities and benefits of independence,” she said.
“It is built on the simple but powerful belief that decisions about Scotland should be taken here in Scotland by the people who live and work here.
“It sets out the economic, social and democratic case for independence.
“It explains how we as a nation can make the journey from a Yes vote in the referendum next September to taking our place as an independent member in the family of nations on March 24 2016.”
Ms Sturgeon highlighted some of the “policy choices” in the paper, including childcare, welfare, pensions, energy, defence, Trident and Europe.
“Scotland’s future is the most detailed blueprint for the independence of a country ever published,” she said.
“We want as many people in Scotland as possible to read it. It is reader-friendly and accessible.
“Our message to the people of Scotland is this: take the opportunity to read Scotland’s Future, pair it with the relentless negativity of the other side of this debate, and make up your own mind.”