Alex Salmond has said he wants to hold an independence referendum in Scotland in the autumn of 2014.
The Scottish first minister said this date would allow people to make a "considered" decision on the country's future within the United Kingdom.
The news came as the UK government said its Scottish counterpart could not legally go ahead without its authority.
It has said it wanted to work with the SNP-led administration amid a row over the timing and conditions for a poll.
Confirming the Scottish government's preferred date for a referendum, Mr Salmond - who wants Scotland to leave the UK - said holding a poll in 2014 would allow all the necessary legislation required to authorise it to be passed and for proper preparations to be made.
'Made in Scotland'
Mr Salmond added: "The date for the referendum has to be the autumn of 2014. That's because this is the biggest decision that Scotland has made for 300 years. If you are going to do things properly and have the debate in the way it must be had then that is the date that we are going to move towards."
The referendum had "to be made in Scotland" and be approved by the Scottish Parliament and he warned the UK government about "trying to pull the strings behind the scenes".
He said: "What Scotland objects to is all the strings they (the UK government) are trying to to attach. They are trying to run a referendum by proxy."
Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that uncertainty over Scotland's future is damaging its economy and all three Unionist parties - the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats - have called for any referendum vote to be held as soon as possible.
In a statement to MPs, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said it was the government's "clear view" that the power to hold a referendum was "reserved" to Westminster under laws passed in 1998 paving the way for Scottish devolution and the Scottish government could not authorise a referendum on its own.
'Legal and fair'
The Lib Dem minister told MPs: "The consultation paper I am publishing today sets out different ways to deliver a legal, fair and decisive referendum.
"It explains how the powers for a referendum could be devolved under the Section 30 order-making provisions in the Scotland Act 1998 - our preferred approach.
"It also invites views on devolving the powers using other legislation, including the current Scotland Bill, and for opinions on the possibility of running the referendum directly.
"Given the clear legal problem that exists, we want to work with the Scottish government to provide the answer.
"This is not about the mandates of Scotland's two governments, or who calls the shots. It is about empowering the people of Scotland to participate in a legal referendum. That means that the UK government is willing to give the Scottish Parliament the powers to hold a referendum which they otherwise cannot do legally."
Mr Moore said the UK government was not suggesting a date for the poll in its consultation but it would recommend a single Yes or No question - rather than a third option which has been floated by the SNP involving increased financial powers for the Scottish government short of full independence.
BBC Scotland's Political Editor Brian Taylor said the UK and Scottish governments were divided over the issue of the timing of the referendum, the question to be put to the public and who should oversee the voting process.
Among other areas yet to be clarified are whether the referendum will be legally binding or merely advisory and whether 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote - a proposal backed by the Scottish government but opposed by the UK government.
For Labour, the party's Scottish leader Johann Lamont called for cross-party talks in Scotland to determine the details of the referendum.
"At last a degree of clarity but this must just be the start," she said of Mr Salmond's announcement. "We need to know that there will be just one question, what that question is, and that the Electoral Commission will administer it."
And Ruth Davidson, the Conservatives' leader in Scotland, said the "decision has to be made by the Scottish people - not held up for years in the Scottish courts".