Alex Salmond has told the BBC that an independent Scotland could remain part of a "United Kingdom", even when it is politically separate from the rest of the UK.
The Scottish first minister pointed out that the term "United Kingdom" came into use in the 17th century, when Scotland was still an independent country, following the 1603 Union of the Crowns.
Mr Salmond was speaking on the Cromarty Firth in Easter Ross where he addressed workers at the Nigg Energy Park, which refits oil rigs, trains welders and is branching out into renewable technology.
For a while today the noisy fabrication yard fell silent while Mr Salmond outlined a vision which one senior aide agreed could be called "independence-lite".
The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader told workers that Scotland should remain part of five unions: the European Union; the NATO defence union; sterling; the monarchy; and the "social union" between the people of the UK.
People in England would still cheer Andy Murray after a yes vote, he said, while the Scots would still support the Lions at rugby.
Mr Salmond did not use the word British, even to describe the Lions, but he insisted that shared ties of language, culture, trade, family and friendship would remain.
The idea that such ties were "dependent on a parliament in London" was "totally nonsensical," he argued.
Asked whether Scotland would remain part of the UK if Scots voted yes next year, Mr Salmond said: "In the sense that the Queen will be head of state, that would be true... but there will be a politically and economically independent country called Scotland."
He denied that his speech was an attempt to relaunch an ailing campaign for a yes vote, saying that he was simply taking his message to the people as the battle "kicks up into gear".
Mr Salmond insisted that independence would allow Scots to "scrap the bedroom tax, stop the privatisation of the Post Office, rid Scotland of nuclear weapons and build a prosperous and just society".
Alex Salmond, who leads a majority SNP government in the devolved Scottish Parliament, told his audience that the Queen could become head of 17 independent countries, rather than 16 as at present.
His remarks follow a speech yesterday at Glasgow University by the head of the pro-union Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling, who insisted that a no vote was about "making a positive choice for the United Kingdom."
Today Better Together described Mr Salmond's comments as "absolute rubbish", saying he was using "every cynical ploy open to him" to break up the United Kingdom.
A Downing Street source said Mr Salmond clearly hadn't read the proposed question for the referendum, adding that independence meant "giving up the single UK market, EU rebates, automatic NATO membership and the pound."
On 18 September 2014 the people of Scotland will be asked "Should Scotland be an independent country?"