The next 18 months will be the most exciting in Scotland's history as the country prepares to vote in the independence referendum, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
She declared the crucial ballot, to be held on September 18 next year, would be Scotland's "date with destiny".
Ms Sturgeon made the claim in her opening address to the Scottish National Party (SNP) spring conference in Inverness. The event got under way just two days after First Minister Alex Salmond announced the date for the independence referendum.
Ms Sturgeon, the SNP depute leader, used her opening remarks to rally activists at the conference, telling them: "The next 18 months will be the most exciting in our history. Let's make sure we seize that opportunity, let's make sure that we win the referendum for ourselves and future generations."
She added: "Over the next 543 days we have the opportunity to persuade people right across our country not just that we can be independent, but that we must be independent, that Scotland would be better off independent."
She held up a copy of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill published on Thursday, which she said would "give the people of Scotland the right to choose our own future, the right to choose independence".
She read out part of the Bill, which states: "A referendum is to be held in Scotland on a question about the independence of Scotland. The question is: Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Ms Sturgeon continued: "I joined this party when I was 16 years old. When I joined the SNP I, of course, imagined Scotland being independent, but I never ever imagined putting my signature on the Bill that will help make independence a reality. The Bill will set September 18 2014 as the date, Scotland's date with destiny."
She said the SNP had "shown beyond any doubt that Scotland can afford to be independent" as she hit out at "disgraceful welfare cuts being imposed on Scotland by a Tory government we didn't vote for".
Ms Sturgeon argued: "Why should Scotland be independent? Because that way we will always get the government we vote for. Because if we are independent, when we are independent, we will use Scotland's resources to build the better country that we want to live in."