The Scottish Government has named autumn 2014 as its date for a referendum on independence for Scotland.
Alex Salmond made the announcement on STV News after the UK Government had published its own proposals for a referendum.
The First Minister said he disagreed with legal assessment made by the UK government that a vote ordered by Holyrood would be unlawful and added he was confident of victory in the vote.
Mr Salmond said: "The Scottish Cabinet has just been putting the finishing touches to a referendum consultation document for consultation with the people of Scotland — and we're proposing the autumn of 2014 as the date for this great referendum, the most important decision for Scotland in 300 years.
"We've done that after a great deal of work, a great deal of analysis, because that's the date that gives people the time to get the information they require and make sure all the preparations can be properly made so that we can have a successful referendum in Scotland in 2014."
Under proposals put forward by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, a draft order drawn up in Westminster would temporarily extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament to allow it to call a referendum on the single question of whether or not Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom.
The UK Government said its legal advice was that any attempt by the Scottish Government to mount a referendum on the basis of an act passed at Holyrood would be unlawful and would be struck down by the courts.
Instead a consultation paper published by Scotland Secretary Michael Moore on Tuesday poses a "Section 30 order" to give Holyrood the power to deliver a referendum. The order would have to be approved by both Houses at Westminster and by the Scottish Parliament.
Speaking on the proposal, Mr Salmond said: "We've always argued that we've got the capacity to hold an advisory poll as opposed to a legally binding poll so we don't agree with their legal analysis but we don't object to the Section 30 idea. We think that's a perfect solution. What we object to is in the last 48 hours the attempt by Westminister to pull the strings of the Scottish referendum."
Officials said the Section 30 order would allow a referendum to be staged within 12 to 18 months if all parties co-operate, but the question of whether a legal deadline should be included in the order will not be decided until after the consultation concludes on March 9.
Ministers said they want any poll to be held "sooner rather than later", to reduce uncertainty, which they believe is damaging the Scottish economy.
In a foreword to the consultation document, Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made clear that they do not want the break-up of the Union, but said it was right that the people of Scotland should be allowed to vote on whether they want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg acknowledged that the SNP fought and won last year's Scottish Parliament election on a manifesto promising an independence referendum by the end of the current term in 2016.
Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg wrote: "They have campaigned consistently for independence and while the UK Government does not believe that this is in the interests of Scotland or of the rest of the United Kingdom, we will not stand in the way of a referendum on independence.
"The future of Scotland's place within the United Kingdom is for people in Scotland to vote on."
They added: "Ending Scotland's place within the United Kingdom is not the policy of the UK Government but we owe it to everyone in Scotland to ensure that the referendum is delivered in a legal, fair and decisive way."
The order proposed by the UK Government would require any referendum to be held under the terms of electoral laws passed at Westminster in 2000, under the oversight of the Electoral Commission.
There would be only one ballot paper offering voters a single choice between the two options of independence or remaining part of the UK. All those registered to vote in Scottish parliamentary elections would be entitled to vote, and the poll could not be held on the date of any other referendum.
The paper also set out the alternative of using legislation at Westminster to authorise the referendum, possibly by an amendment to the Scotland Bill which is currently going through Parliament.
But it made clear that the legal opinion of the UK Government is that, without either of these measures, the Scottish Parliament does not itself have the power to pass legislation to trigger a referendum.
The Scotland Act of 1998, which established devolution, states explicitly that the question of "the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England" will remain a matter reserved to Westminster.
And it says that any act passed in Holyrood on reserved matters is "not law" because it is outside the legislative competence of that Parliament.
The Attorney General and the Advocate General for Scotland are required by law to consider all legislation passed at Holyrood within four weeks and decide whether to refer it to the Supreme Court in London for a ruling on whether it falls outside the Scottish Parliament's powers.
But in practice, ministers believe that individuals in Scotland would be "very likely" to refer a referendum act to the Supreme Court themselves before this process is complete.
"It is the UK Government's view that any bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament providing for a referendum on independence would be outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament and, if challenged, would be struck down by the courts," said the consultation paper.
And it added: "The UK Government does not believe that it is in Scotland's interests to have Scotland's constitutional future decided in court. The referendum must be legally watertight - there must be no doubt that it is lawful.
"That certainty can only be provided by legislation involving the UK Parliament."
For the referendum to be considered fair, its rules and oversight must be "manifestly and overtly above board", said the consultation paper.
"We cannot allow the possibility that the result of the referendum is questioned because the rules were considered unfair," it said.
The paper also warned of the danger that a referendum with more than two options could fail to provide a decisive result.
"The referendum must be decisive," it said. "It is the UK Government's view that for this to happen, there must be a single, straightforward question and that question must be asked as soon as possible.
"We live in uncertain times, with the global economic situation creating challenges for increasing investment and jobs in Scotland.
"The question of Scotland's constitutional future is increasing that uncertainty. It is irresponsible to allow this question to hang over Scotland, when it is in our power to end the doubts and allow Scotland to move forward with a clear constitutional future."
Under the UK Government's proposals, following the conclusion of the consultation period on March 9, ministers would decide whether to press ahead with the preferred route of a section 30 order or to take the option of separate Westminster legislation.
A section 30 order would have to be passed by both Houses at Westminster as well as the Holyrood Parliament, but there would be no possibility of either legislature amending its wording. If it was defeated either in London or Edinburgh, it would have to be withdrawn and a decision taken on whether to table a fresh order.
Officials believe that an order could be approved within a few weeks if all sides co-operate. This would then allow the Scottish Parliament to pass a referendum bill. Experience suggests that the poll itself could be held within about one year after the introduction of legislation at Holyrood.
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