THE UK Government is the biggest threat to the values and vision of the post-war welfare state, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed.

As the Coalition pursues major changes to the National Health Service in England, Ms Sturgeon said it was only through devolution that the Scottish Government had been able to protect the values of the NHS and ensure it could meet the needs of people in Scotland.

Arguing the case for independence in a lecture at Glasgow University's School of Law yesterday, Ms Sturgeon identified health as an area where Scotland's distinctive policies were paying off.

She said: "Unlike its counterpart in England, the NHS in Scotland will remain a public service, paid for by the public and accountable to the public. There will be no privatisation of the NHS in Scotland.

"I say that not out of blind ideology – though I have always thought the ideology of a health service in public hands and free at the point of need is a rather fine one. I say it because I believe our NHS can, and will, outperform the privatised experiment south of the Border."

Ms Sturgeon, who is also Health Secretary, said waiting times and rates of hospital infections were lower than at any time in the history of the NHS in Scotland, and that had not been achieved by "NHS staff competing against each other".

"It has been achieved by NHS staff working together in the interests of patients. And the key point is that we are able to do so because we have the power to decide how to structure and deliver our own health service, to best meet the needs of the people who depend on it."

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Parliament already made a range of key decisions and was, "to all intents and purposes, independent when it comes to running our schools, hospitals, police and much else besides".

She said: "In those areas, we have been able to do things differently. Differently, and better for Scotland. Independence would give us the power not only to protect Scotland from policies that offend our sense of decency and social cohesion. It would also allow us to build a fairer Scotland.

"Independence will give Scotland the opportunity to make different decisions and to implement policies designed for its own needs in every area."

Ms Sturgeon criticised the pro-Union parties promising extra powers after the referendum, if voters rejected independence, for not saying what they would be. She said: "It is incumbent on those who don't support independence, but who say Scotland should have extra powers, to be equally precise about what they stand for.

"People deserve no less than a debate that is detailed and fully informed – on all sides."

Meanwhile, a leading industrialist has said Scotland is "the most over-governed country in Europe" and should reject any further autonomy.

Cameron McLatchie, the longest-serving chairman of a quoted Scottish plc, said: "I have never been in favour of a separate nation, we are far too interdependent, and we have a need to pull together in the current economic situation."

Mr McLatchie, 65, has headed Greenock-based British Polythene Industries – Europe's biggest maker of polythene bags and sacks – since 1975. It employs 300 in Scotland and another 2000 worldwide and has a £103 million market value.

He said: "Independence that has been given to us has led to considerable extra government costs and burdens for the Scottish people. We must be the most over-governed country in Europe and have more layers of representation than anybody else."

Mr McLatchie also attacked Scotland and UK energy policy. He said: "We are all paying for high-priced wind farms. We are at a severe disadvantage to all of our near neighbours in terms of costs to industry."

He claimed energy costs were higher in the UK than in Holland, Belgium, Scandinavia, Spain or Germany as well as Canada and China.

Last week Peter Hughes, chief executive of Scottish Engineering, said three-quarters of his members wanted the independence referendum to be staged "much earlier" than the SNP's proposed date of 2014. It followed similar calls from SSE, Weir Group and Miller Group.