NICOLA Sturgeon has said the SNP's Growth Commission could help clinch victory in a second independence referendum.
Writing in the Sunday Herald, ahead of the SNP conference, Sturgeon said the blueprint was "based on hope – not despair".
She attacked claims it was a recipe for extreme austerity as "bogus" and as "scare" stories from the Unionist parties.
In her most robust defence of the document yet, Sturgeon said it sets out "clear and solid foundations" to "win the trust of a majority of our fellow citizens".
Sturgeon said that report had been deliberately pitched at those who rejected independence in 2014.
"Some others who have been firmly opposed to independence have been prompted to look at the arguments afresh – and while not yet fully persuaded, now see the option of independence as a legitimate and credible one," she declared.
The document delivered by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, is not formally scheduled for debate at the SNP conference, according to the newly published agenda. There are also no advertised fringe meetings hosted by the commission at the event on Friday and Saturday. More than 2,000 delegates are expected at the conference in Aberdeen.
However, Sturgeon's foreword to the agenda, says the SNP "will take a formal view on the report’s recommendations later in the year". She says the findings show "that small, independent nations can be successful, and often more successful than larger nations".
Under Wilson's recommendations, Scotland would keep the pound for at least 10 years, while public spending would be limited in an attempt to reduce the deficit. The plan would see Scotland take on its share of the UK’s debt burden as part of a “close and positive” relationship, insisting lessons should be learned “from the less than orderly approach to the Brexit discussions so far”.
Last night, Labour blasted Wilson's plan for public spending restraint as "a fundamental change in the role of government in Scotland".
Scottish Labour finance spokesman James Kelly said: “Nicola Sturgeon has bought into the George Osborne mantra that you can cut your way to economic growth. A further decade of austerity would fundamentally alter the role of government in our society."
Writing in today's Sunday Herald, Sturgeon said the plan to retain the pound without seeking a formal currency union – a shift from Alex Salmond 2013-14 White Paper – would allow the SNP to make a "compelling case for independence".
She stated the commission had been "deliberately cautious" in order to "prove that the deficit is not a barrier to independence".
However, she hit back at claims that the 10-year deficit reduction plans would cause brutal public expenditure cuts.
She said it was focused on promoting economic and wage growth, improving living standards, as well as providing an alternative to austerity. Sturgeon said that voters who agree with the SNP on those basic arguments face the question of which "constitutional scenario" was most likely to deliver that package. She insisted that the prospectus gave the party a fresh chance to make the case that Holyrood would need the powers of an independent nation for that. Sturgeon said the blueprint drew heavily on the economic performance of other nations.
She added: "The commission sets out what other independent countries that have applied themselves to these challenges have been able to achieve, the benefits they have reaped, and why Scotland must seek the powers to do more. If we can all agree that these are the key challenges Scotland must rise to – and we should – the question then becomes: under what constitutional scenario are they more likely to be addressed?"
Sturgeon added: "We have to show that people’s jobs, their bank accounts, their rents and mortgages and their pensions are at the forefront of our thoughts – and indeed, it is precisely because we care so much about people’s jobs and quality of life that we so passionately believe in independence. With those clear and solid foundations – foundations that the Growth Commission’s report will help us to build – I believe we can, and we will, win the trust of a majority of our fellow citizens."
Sturgeon said the Growth Commission's plans "explicitly reject austerity". She said it would have "completely wiped out" £2.6 billion "real-terms" cuts she claimed had been imposed on Scotland by Tory governments at Westminster