Alex Salmond is not being honest with the Scottish people about the consequences of independence, Labour's leader in Scotland has said.
Johann Lamont claimed the Scottish National Party (SNP) was avoiding the "tough questions" on independence, telling delegates at the Labour Party conference in Manchester there was a need for an "honest debate" about breaking away from the United Kingdom.
She also hit back at claims by the SNP that she was a poster girl for the Conservatives after she questioned whether Mr Salmond's spending plans were affordable.
Ms Lamont said: "The SNP might not have the courage to be straight with the Scottish people but we do. What Alex Salmond is doing with Scotland's finances is the equivalent of putting the gas bill in the drawer. We've all done it - not opened the bill because we feared the consequences. So we stuff it away. And the reminder. And the final notice. But we all know that never ends well.
"Salmond hopes we won't ask the tough questions about independence and he is desperate we don't ask the tough questions of the here and now. He knows that every Scottish family is bearing the cost of his slogans. We all know that his budget will go bust. But he hopes that somehow he can keep the truth from the Scottish people until after the referendum.
"I won't wait until after the referendum to be honest with the people of Scotland. We need an honest debate now about how we protect the most vulnerable from the cuts. Not everyone is going to like the solutions - that is unavoidable.
"But I will be straight with people now about what is to come, and I will be true to Labour values - that we will not allow those who most need our support to pay the price for populist slogans."
Last week, Ms Lamont faced sustained criticism from her Holyrood opponents for casting into doubt popular but expensive Scottish Government policies which also include free university tuition and a council-tax freeze. The SNP branded her the poster girl for the Conservatives after she called for an end to a "something-for-nothing" culture, arguing that taxes will have to rise or services will be cut.
But Ms Lamont, making the first speech to the UK party conference as an overall leader for Scottish Labour, vehemently denied the charge she was a Conservative stooge.
She said: "Last week, when I pointed out that Scotland's families are paying for Salmond's unsustainable tax break for the rich, I was accused of being a Tory. I'm not sure if the cap fits with someone who campaigned against Thatcher's cuts to Scotland in the Eighties. Not sure the cap fits with someone who campaigned for a Scottish Parliament to protect Scotland from future Tory governments."