ALISTAIR Darling has dismissed the SNP's White Paper on independence as a "wish-list of political promises" and "a work of fiction, thick with false promises and meaningless assertions".

In a strongly-worded attack yesterday, the former Chancellor and head of the cross-party pro-UK Better Together campaign said the long-awaited document had failed to change the debate.

He said: "The Nationalists have ducked the opportunity to answer the big questions about Scotland's future.

"We have waited months for this and it has failed to give credible answers on fundamentally important questions.

"What currency would we use? Who will set our mortgage rates? How much would taxes have to go up? How will we pay pensions and benefits in future?"

He added: "It is a fantasy to say we can leave the UK but still keep all the benefits of UK membership."

Better Together claimed the White Paper's most eye-catching pledge, to provide near-full- time childcare, could be achieved using Holyrood's existing powers.

Mr Darling said: "Their excuse for not using the power they already have beggars belief - Nicola Sturgeon said they couldn't act now because women would go to work and the tax they pay would go to the UK Treasury. That is our treasury, not that of a foreign country."

Yes Scotland, the cross-party pro-independence group including the SNP, Greens and Scottish Socialists, welcomed the White Paper. A joint statement issued by the group's advisory board said: "All those involved in Yes Scotland are agreed that our country is ready for this journey, and we welcome the Scottish Government's plans, which will form the proposals upon which people will be asked to vote next year.

"In the first election to an ­independent Scottish Parliament, the people of Scotland will choose the government they want to take Scotland forward, based upon the manifestos on offer from each of the political parties. The people of Scotland will be able to take our nation in whatever direction they see fit."

Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins added: "Scotland's Future is an exciting, informative and insightful vision of what an independent Scotland will be, without the controls, mistakes and unwanted, one-size-fits-all policies of Westminster governments."

The STUC also welcomed the White Paper and its emphasis on economic development and childcare. General Secretary Grahame Smith said unions would discuss the SNP's plan for a national convention on labour relations.

But he said questions remained about whether social programmes could be boosted without higher taxation. He added: "It is also ­disappointing that new arguments weren't forthcoming to rebut genuine concerns around a formal currency union with rUK."

Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for ­Voluntary Services, which represents the charity sector, said: "This is a progressive government which supports the work of charities and third-sector organisations, and shares many of our values. This shows in the White Paper, but equality and social justice will always have to be fought for, independence or not."

Meanwhile, No 10 made clear yesterday the UK Government could ignore the White Paper during independence negotiations. Within hours of the historic document's unveiling, Downing Street said it was under no obligation to implement any of its measures.

David Cameron's official spokesman said UK ministers would respect the outcome of the referendum. But he added that was a "completely different thing to agreeing to whatever Alex Salmond announces at a press conference".

A number of key sections of the White Paper rely on UK Government agreement, ­including major issues such as currency union and the allocation of defence assets.

No 10 also accused Scottish ministers of not answering "the big questions" on fiscal sustainability, Europe and currency in the document.

That view was echoed by the Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael. The Liberal Democrat cabinet minister said that rarely had "so many words been used to answer so little".

He attacked the lack of costings in the document, saying "this was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people will judge them on that".

"For years we have been ­promised that all the answers on independence would be in the white paper," he added. "The big day has finally arrived and we have 670 pages that leaves us none the wiser on crucial questions such as currency, pensions and the cost of independence.

"People will draw their own conclusions that the Scottish Government have deliberately sought to ignore the uncertainties and difficulties of independence. We are simply expected to believe that everything will be perfect after we leave the UK."

His former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the paper was disappointing.

"In every instance where there is uncertainty, the SNP position is that men and women of good will, will reach a solution," he said.

"This would be independence on a wing and a prayer. The arguments for membership of the United Kingdom remain as powerful as they ever did."