Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond has called for 16 and 17-year-olds to be allowed to vote in the referendum

Scotland's first minister has called for 16 and 17-year-olds to be eligible to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence.

Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, announced the Scottish government's preferred options for the vote on autonomy from Britain, which Holyrood plans to hold in 2014.

"If a 16-year-old in Scotland can register to join the army, get married and pay taxes, surely he or she should be able to have a say in this country's constitutional future?" he asked lawmakers in the Scottish parliament.

The referendum ballot will ask: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

Salmond added that a third option after voting yes or voting no would be considered that would offer freedom to raise taxes. Called "devo-max", it would be a step down from complete independence.

The proposals will have to be negotiated with Scottish voters as well as the British government. Prime Minister David Cameron does not support a third option.

But Salmond said it would be fair and democratic for devo-max to be included as an option if it gains "wide support".

"We will not, as the UK government seems to want, eliminate that choice simply because it might be popular," he said.

Cameron said that everyone in Britain should have a say in changes to Scotland's status.

Polls suggest that only about one third of Scots are in favour of independence. Critics have called for a vote to be held soon, rather than giving Salmond two years to campaign.

Salmond claims that the vote would represent "the most important decision by the people of Scotland in 300 years".