Scots should be asked the question "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" in any referendum on breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Unveiling a consultation document on how an independence referendum might be run Alex Salmond said the question would give Scots a "straightforward" and "clear" choice. He added the vote was the "the most important decision by the people of Scotland in 300 years".
In a rare sign of political unity between London and Edinburgh the consultation document was broadly welcomed by the UK Government.
Although it includes an option of giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote and a separate question on giving Scotland greater powers short of devolution these are likely to be conceded by Mr Salmond as part of a deal with Westminster.
The referendum will almost certainly be held in late 2014 and will be overseen by the Electoral Commission who will have final say over the wording of the question. However UK Government sources said they had no objections to the Scottish Government's question.
The plebiscite is likely to be open to all voters on the electoral roll in Scotland regardless if they are English or Scottish. The consultation proposes spending caps for the referendum campaign, suggesting designated lead campaign organisations spend no more than £750,000 and a maximum £250,000 for political parties in the Scottish Parliament.
If Scots voted for independence, negotiations would then take place between Holyrood and Westminster on ending the union.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament Mr Salmond said he looked forward to discussing the issue with the Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, "in the coming days".
The UK Government has already put forward its own plans, to temporarily extend Holyrood's powers to enable the vote to take place. In an upbeat speech Mr Salmond said that the next two and a half years would be "the most exciting in Scotland's modern history".
"Independence, in essence, is based on a simple idea: the people who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live, work and bring up their families in Scotland, should be the ones taking the decisions about our nation's future," he said.
But Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said that Mr Salmond was misrepresenting the position of those Scots who want to remain in the United Kingdom. "He tries to define for those who believe in devolution that in order to recognise that, they must have maximum devolution," she said.