THIS past week has marked a decisive moment in the debate over which path our nation should choose in next year's referendum.

"Scotland's Future", the guide to independence that the Scottish Government published on Tuesday, is the most detailed blueprint for an independent country ever produced.

The response has been exceptional, with almost 370,000 online page-views so far, and all 20,000 hard copies already accounted for. This weekend we are ordering a fresh print-run of another 10,000 copies, just days after publication.

That evident enthusiasm shows the desire of people across Scotland to get facts and answers about what independence will mean for them, their families and communities.

The guide, and its 650 answers to questions we have been asked, includes detail on everything from currency and corporation tax to Strictly Come Dancing and the Eurovision Song Content. But it also offers a clear vision of the better, fairer and more prosperous nation Scotland can be with the powers of an independent country, including our proposals for a transformational change in childcare provision if we are elected the first Government of an independent Scotland.

The No campaign and its ­leadership are badly rattled by that vision and its potential to transform the shape of the debate, and they show it. A simple look at Nicola Sturgeon's dismantling of Alistair Carmichael on STV's Wednesday evening head-to-head debate is all the evidence we need of that.

Faced with the forensic interrogation of the Deputy First Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland simply crumbled, turning to the studio host three times in a forlorn bid to extricate himself from more humiliation.

But while the late-night screening might have made for entertaining viewing for fans of political pugilism, the spectacle of Carmichael's humbling should not be allowed to obscure the more fundamental underlying narrative of that debate.

Because the fact is the Scottish Secretary had - literally - no answer to the questions which were put to him.

On the massive projected surge in the number of children living in poverty if we remain tied to Westminster rule - no answer. On the question of what powers are guaranteed to come to Scotland in the event of a No vote - no answer.

And, perhaps most telling of all, on the question of what happens to the Barnett Formula and whether Scotland faces a funding cut if we don't become financially self-reliant - answer came there none.

Mr Carmichael and his colleagues in the No campaign demand absolute certainty and clarity from the pro-independence camp all the time on every single issue imaginable. But, faced with the same call for clarity and certainty, they are able to offer absolutely none.

People may agree or disagree with all or parts of our paper "Scotland's Future" - but no-one can dispute the fact we have produced such a document. What remains lacking, and will remain lacking from now until the referendum, is a similar publication from the No campaign. But that utter void in vision, substance and detail from the opponents of independence will not stop us on the pro-independence side of the debate from asking the tough questions.

That is why this weekend I am writing to David Cameron asking him for clarity on proposals which would, in the event of a No vote, see Scotland's budget slashed by billions of pounds a year.

It may have been overshadowed by the launch of our blueprint, but last week a little known cross-party group in the House of Commons produced a report which contains quite devastating implications for Scotland's economic wellbeing if we stay tied to Westminster.

The All-Party Parliamentary Taxation Group, with Labour, LibDem and Tory MPs among its members, issued a paper which professed to be an objective, non-partisan view of the future of Scotland's finances.

Its recommendations include the proposal that, in the event of a No vote, the Barnett Formula should be scrapped and Scotland's funding replaced by a mechanism based on the findings of the Holtham Commission.

The author of that report, Gerald Holtham, is on record as saying that adopting his proposals could result in Scotland receiving £4 billion a year less than it currently does from Westminster. That is equivalent to around £1600 for every income-tax payer in Scotland, and the ramifications of such a cut for public finances and services across the country are only too clear.

The simple truth is that all the Westminster parties are itching to cut Scotland's budget in the event of a No vote in the referendum. That's why I am asking the Prime Minister to spell out, with the same clarity and certainty he demands of the proponents of independence, exactly what would happen to Scotland's budget if we do not vote Yes next year.

This week has been an important one in the debate on our nation's future. And when the story of the campaign comes to be written, I believe it will be seen as one of the most decisive.