Mr Salmond believes the "gradualist" route to independence - first demonstrating competence in a devolved administration - is the least likely to alarm voters and business.
The delicacy of the task was underlined yesterday in an opinion poll that showed Labour regaining a significant lead over the nationalists. During the summer Labour has mounted an increasingly vitriolic attack on SNP "separatism".
The ICM poll gave Labour 57 seats in the Edinburgh parliament, the SNP 46 seats, Tories 17 and the Liberal Democrats nine seats - hardening the prospect of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. While Mr Salmond was scathing about "London Labour" and mocked the dazed remnants of the Tory party, he made no mention of the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Salmond told delegates at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness that the election would be the first real contest in Scottish politics for a generation - "no more divine right for Labour to rule in Scotland".
"First of all we want to make the parliament work for Scotland - both in the narrow sense of being successful in doing what it can do, but also in the broader sense of, by that success, aspiring to do much more. Our approach is entirely positive."
He said one of the very best things about the road to independence was the opportunity it offered for a grown-up relationship with the English. Under Labour and the Tories, Scotland had been a "lobbying culture", rushing down to London whenever anything went wrong. "When it rains in Scotland, some people blame the English."
The SNP did not blame the English for the state of Scotland. "At each ... election we have the ability to vote ourselves into independence. And if we choose not to do that, then that is my fault for not arguing the case well enough, our fault as a party for not campaigning hard enough, our fault as a country for not having the guts or the gumption for freedom."Reuse content