SNP conference 2013: Salmond pledge on childcare in an independent Scotland
SNP leader Alex Salmond has pledged a major shift towards childcare as one of the top priorities of an independent Scotland.
The first minister told his party conference that his "ambitions for childcare" were at he heart of the SNP's social and economic policy.
His speech in Inverness came days after the date of the Scottish independence referendum was announced.
Voters will go to the polls in the vote on 18 September 2014.
They will be asked the yes/no question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Mr Salmond used his speech to set out his vision for an independent Scotland, while attacking the policies of the UK government.
He told delegates that the Scottish governnment's council of economic advisers had been asked to produce an analysis of the impact on Scotland of moving to levels of childcare support seen across other European countries.
The first minister said: "Our ambitions for childcare are the hallmark of our approach to social and economic policy - we promote the measures we do because they advance both our economy and our society.
"Some argue there is a contradiction between the two, but the reality that a progressive social policy boosts the economy, and a dynamic economy enables us to build the fairer society we want. Each is the handmaiden of the other."
Mr Salmond placed no timetable on the aspiration, telling delegates: "It will not be done in a day, or a year, or even completed in the first term of an independent parliament.
"But I believe a transformational shift towards childcare should be one of the first tasks of an independent Scotland."
Mr Salmond said the devolved Scottish government had already taken steps to improve opportunities for youngsters, including a widening of free nursery care.
He told the gathering: "For every young mum and dad juggling work and parenthood, this SNP government is here for you and your family."
At the same time, the SNP leader highlighted the "glaring inequality" of last week's unemployment figures which showed 66% of women in jobs, compared with 76% of men.
He said: "If we closed the opportunity gap, we would add to our national wealth and to our taxation base by mobilising the skills of women into our workforce."
Mr Salmond's speech came after legislation on the arrangements for holding the referendum was this week introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
The SNP leader said it was time to move on to the "why" of independence, saying social change could release Scotland's untapped potential and make it a "prosperous economy and a just society".
He said of the referendum: "That choice - the real choice - becomes clearer by the day.
"The opportunity to use our vast resources and talent to build a better country, or to continue with a Westminster system that simply isn't working for Scotland - a system which has not worked in the past and will not work in the future."
Mr Salmond also used the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and the basing of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde to attack the UK government.
He said: "The catastrophe of Iraq shows why our parliament needs to have the powers of independence - so that never again can Scotland be dragged into an illegal war under false pretences."
The first minister also said: "Trident is Westminster's ultimate vanity obscenity but now is entirely dependent on next year's vote.
"Because, delegates, it's now clear that the only way we can finally remove these weapons of mass destruction is with a 'yes' vote for independence."
Mr Salmond also hit out at UK government welfare reforms to further the independence cause, including an attack on housing benefit changes, branded the "bedroom tax" by critics.
He said: "This is an iniquitous, unfair, anti-family imposition conceived because of runaway rent levels in the south.
"Why should people who would impose such iniquity have any power and authority over the Scottish people?"
Mr Salmond said all SNP-led councils would halt the threat of evictions for those whose housing benefits are reduced if they have a spare bedroom.