• Alex Salmond is calling for "more powers to do more for Scotland"
Mr Salmond was launching a White Paper for a vote on constitutional reform, and the St Andrew's Day announcement was aimed at paving the way for the referendum which the Scottish National Party hopes to see next year.
But opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament have vowed to block the move.
The wording of the referendum is not disclosed in today's White Paper.
But it sets out four possible scenarios for Scotland.
These are: no change in the present set-up; more devolution as recommended by the Calman Commission; a further degree of devolution; and full independence.
Mr Salmond said: "The debate in Scottish politics is no longer between change or no change – it's about the kind of change we seek and the right of the people to choose their future in a free and fair referendum."
Mr Salmond went on: "This historic document sets out the case for Scottish independence with unprecedented depth and clarity."
The First Minister said Scottish popular opinion had moved "far beyond" wanting no change.
And he insisted the Calman Commission on devolution – supported by Labour, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats, but not the Nationalists – fell short of public need.
Mr Salmond said Westminster was "refusing" to make any progress on issues like devolving control over airguns this side of an election and "substantial doubt" as to what would happen after an election.
He said: "This White Paper charts the route to progress for Scotland and we are calling on people of all parties and none who want real and substantive additions to the powers of the Parliament to rally to the referendum campaign.
"That is why we are open to including the option of such powers on the referendum ballot paper, alongside independence."
Mr Salmond said that, after a year of devolution, there was "a clear and consistent demand" for more constitutional "progress" and extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
"The vast majority of people want to expand the responsibilities of the Parliament so that we have more powers to do more for Scotland," he said.
These included the economic and financial clout needed to fight recession, the right to "speak up for Scotland" in Europe, and the ability to remove Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland.
The SNP hopes to publish a referendum Bill early next year, with a referendum being staged about 12 months from now.
But opposition parties, who outnumber the SNP in the Scottish Parliament, have repeatedly vowed to block the plan.
And Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray insisted today: "This is simply not the time for a referendum."
The White Paper published today, entitled Your Scotland, Your Voice, runs to 176 pages.
A foreword from Mr Salmond on the opening page states: "I ask every Scot to pause and reflect, not just on what kind of country we are but on the kind of country we could be, the kind of country we should be.
"I am committed to a new chapter in Scottish politics, one in which the story and the script is written by the people and not just by the politicians."
The appeal was originally made in August 2007 when Mr Salmond's administration launched the "national conversation" process which led to today's White Paper.
At the time of the 2007 launch, Mr Salmond was proposing a referendum with only one question – inviting voters to agree or disagree that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with Westminster so that Scotland becomes an independent state.
The options set out in today's White Paper are more numerous, but the questions which would ultimately appear on the ballot paper have not yet been decided.
The White Paper sets out the four "broad options" for the future.
It states: "Independence would complete the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament and Government while allowing existing structures and services to continue."
The White Paper continues: "Aspects of an independent Scotland would be familiar: services and entitlements continuing to be delivered; pensions and benefits continuing to be paid at a similar level as now.
"Services such as the NHS and education are already largely devolved and so would continue in much the same form as they do now.
"Over time, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament could develop and implement Scotland-specific solutions."
Mr Gray branded the referendum White Paper "a multimillion-pound white elephant".
He said: "Alex Salmond is out of touch with Scotland. All recent polls show the great majority of Scots don't want to break up Britain and now is not the time for a referendum.
"Yesterday's poll showed 80% support the union and don't want independence. Last week, only 12% thought independence was a priority.
"What people really care about are jobs and the economy. It is the top priority, not Alex Salmond's vanity project."
He added: "The SNP cannot even come up with a straight question for their bogus referendum in today's White Paper.