LAST week, the Scottish Government published some interesting analysis which showed that Scots are being short-changed when it comes to pensions.

Because of lower life expectancy in Scotland -something that we are working hard to improve - the average woman will get £11,000 less in pension payments than counterparts in the rest of the UK, even though she will pay exactly the same in contributions.

For a man, the shortfall is £10,000.

And when we look at how Glasgow compares with some of the wealthiest parts of the rest of the UK, the gap is considerably wider.

The opposition parties reacted to this research by deliberately distorting its key message.

They tried to suggest that the government's point was that an independent Scotland could only afford pensions because we die younger.

That is manifest nonsense and insulting to the intelligence of the public.

An independent Scotland could afford pensions full stop - after all, it is our taxes and national insurance contributions that fund them now.

Moreover, we want to close the life expectancy gap and are working hard to do so.

The point we are making is, instead, one of basic fairness.

If Scots are being shortchanged now, then surely it will be deeply unfair to make the problem worse by increasing the state pension age at the same rate as in the rest of the UK before we have managed to address the life expectancy gap.

To do so will simply mean that Scots continue to pay the same but lose out to an even greater degree.

Far fairer, in my view, to have the power in Scotland to decide for ourselves what the pension age will be and to do so based on our own circumstances.

That's the power we will get with independence and the other parties know it - which is why they were so keen to distract attention from the central findings of this dramatic research.

Being able to take decisions in Scotland's best interests is what independence is all about - and that applies at home and in international organisations.

If we are an independent country with a seat at the top table in the EU, we will be able to ensure that our national interests are better protected than is the case now when we have to rely on Westminster to represent us.

That is the future that lies ahead for Scotland if we vote Yes in September.

In the meantime, we have a chance on Thursday in the European Parliament elections to elect MEPs who will stand up for Scotland.

The SNP currently holds two out of Scotland's six seats in the European Parliament and we are working hard to win a third.

The contest for that third seat is between the SNP and UKIP. The SNP candidate is Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

Tasmina would make a fantastic MEP and be a strong voice for Scotland.

Her election - as our first Scots-Asian MEP - would also be a strong rebuke from Scotland to the intolerance and divisiveness of UKIP.