Independence could see Scottish parents benefit from a European-style system of childcare with a far greater level of public subsidy, the country's First Minister has said.
Alex Salmond said a "transformational shift" in this area should be one of the first acts of an independent Scotland. He made the policy commitment as he delivered his keynote speech to the Scottish National Party (SNP) spring conference in Inverness.
Mr Salmond hailed the measure as one of the reasons for voting to leave the UK in next year's referendum, describing it as "part of the why of independence".
While the Scottish Government has already promised 600 free hours of nursery education a year for three and four-year-olds, the SNP leader said only a limited amount could be achieved under devolution.
He added: "We don't have the financial freedom to give us the biggest bang for our buck, to invest in areas where Scotland could make huge social and economic strides. So, let us consider what more we could achieve in an independent Scotland."
In the UK about 25% of childcare costs are met by the state, compared to 75% in Iceland and about 80% in Germany. Mr Salmond said he had now tasked economic experts with examining the issue.
He told the conference: "I have asked the Council of Economic Advisers to produce an analysis of the economic and social impact on Scotland moving to the levels of support for childcare commonplace across European countries."
The First Minister added: "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."
Such an approach, the First Minister argued, could bring both social and economic benefits. He said there were 66% of working-age women in employment in Scotland, compared to 76% of men, and added: "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.
"But there would be another change - a fundamental opportunity to improve the life chances of many of our children."