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Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said on Thursday that Scots will vote on September 18, 2014 in a referendum on whether the country should be independent.
Announcing the long-awaited date for the ballot, Salmond said it would be the "historic day when the people will decide Scotland's future".
Salmond, whose Scottish National Party (SNP) will campaign hard for a "yes" vote, announced the date to the country's parliament in Edinburgh as the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill was published.
Voters will be asked the yes/no question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
London's political parties including Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives want Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom, arguing its 5.3 million people are better off within the Union.
Salmond said the bill was "the most important legislation to be introduced" since the devolved Scottish parliament was established in 1999.
He said the legislation was important for what it would allow Scotland to achieve "with the powers of an independent country".
The vote is taking place after the SNP won an unprecedented majority in Edinburgh at the 2011 election.
Salmond said that in the ballot the people of Scotland would have a genuine choice.
"Next year the choice facing the people is one of two futures. A 'no' vote means a future of governments we didn't vote for, imposing cuts and policies we didn't support. A 'yes' vote means a future where we can be absolutely certain, 100 percent certain, that the people of Scotland will get the government they vote for," he said.
But Johann Lamont, leader of the opposition Scottish Labour party, which wants Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, said: "The truth is, Alex Salmond knows if he held the referendum now, he wouldn't just lose it, he would be routed."
Referring to the delay in announcing the referendum date, Lamont said: "Making an occasion out of a delayed announcement is an attempt to con the people into believing that we have moved a step towards independence when we haven't."
The Scottish government has brought in separate draft legislation to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum.
Alistair Darling, Britain's former finance minister and the leader of the campaign for a "no" vote, said the SNP was waiting until autumn 2014 to hold the vote because it knew it would lose if it was held this year.
"The only reason (for waiting) until 2014 is because Alex Salmond is hoping something will turn up," he told Sky News. "He keeps talking about 'a journey', but his car is pretty much stalled on the starting line."
By holding the vote in September 2014, the SNP will be hoping to ride a wave of Scottish pride, as the Commonwealth Games take place in the city of Glasgow in July and August of that year.
2014 is also the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant date in Scotland's battle for independence.