Alex Salmond is to announce the date of next year's Scottish independence referendum in a statement at Holyrood later on Thursday.
The first minister's statement, nearly two years after winning his landslide election victory, will come as the Scottish parliament publishes its draft referendum bill to enact the poll.
Voters, set to include 16- and 17-year-olds for the first time in a major poll, will be asked a single six-word question: "Should Scotland become an independent country?"
The bill will set out spending limits for the opposing campaigns and political parties, expected to total at least £6m, and confirm further details about the franchise including 16- and 17-year-olds.
Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, who is charged with leading the Scottish government's referendum campaign, said the announcement marked "a significant and important step in Scotland's independence journey".
Speaking as she met apprentices at Steel Engineering in Renfrewshire, which fabricates tidal and wind turbines, she said: "We have an ambitious vision for this country, one that is prosperous and successful, reflecting Scottish values of fairness and opportunity, promoting equality and social cohesion. But I believe this vision can only be realised through the powers that independence will bring."
The apprentice engineers were due to cut the date for the referendum out of steel plate with a laser.
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