The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill passed the first of three stages needed before it can become law.
All political parties voted for the general principles of the Bill which aims to set the question and regulate campaign spending, among other provisions.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it will allow people in Scotland to make a historic choice next year.
“The compelling case for independence is to bring home the powers that will allow us here in Scotland to deliver the kind of country we want to be, the kind of country we can all be proud of,” she said.
Labour’s Drew Smith said it is important that the referendum is clearly settled.
“We agree that despite our different views on the answer, this question should be put and settled next year,” he said.
Debate on the Bill raised concerns about the approach to donations and how governments will be regulated in the final stages of campaigning, known as purdah.
Conservative MSP Annabel Goldie said the Bill delivers a “workable mechanism” for the referendum.
“For me, the main area of sensitivity concerns the period before September 18 next year, governed by the regulatory period of 16 weeks, and the purdah period of 28 days,” she said.
“Now, that has implications for campaign groups, their activities and their expenditure. But it also has implications for governments and their quangos.”
The legislation will now go back for further scrutiny and possible amendments before returning to the chamber.