Branding the Westminster Government "incompetent Lord Snooties", he said they were "hell-bent on pulling our society apart at the seams" and it was time to choose a different future.
Without change, Labour and the Tories in London would continue to impose cuts on Scotland and, in the long term, starve the public services devised by Holyrood, he said.
Read the speech in full
"What was won could now be lost. Have no doubt, what was gained by devolution can now only be guaranteed with independence," Salmond told a packed SNP conference in Perth.
He called Labour and the Tories "the two great pillars of the union – united in a death-grip programme to sweep away concessionary travel, free prescriptions and education."
Mocking Chancellor George Osborne, who was caught using a standard class ticket in a first class train carriage on Friday, he said: "Why on earth do we allow this bunch of incompetent Lord Snooties to be in positions of authority over our country?"
However, he conspicuously refrained from attacking the LibDems, as the SNP hopes to convert the party's members, who already back far greater powers under devolution, to full-blown independence.
The First Minister confirmed all 16 and 17-year-olds would be able to vote in the independence ballot, and that a bill to enshrine that right would be introduced to Holyrood within weeks.
Under existing electoral law, only those aged at least 16 years and 10 months would be on the standard electoral register for October 2014.
The speech, the first since last week's Edinburgh Agreement on the mechanics of the referendum, set out many of the attack lines the SNP intend to use over the next 100 weeks.
Among them were the claims that Westminster is "beyond salvation", out of touch with Scotland, and that only independence offers an escape from more cuts under Labour and the Tories.
Salmond rounded on Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont's review into the affordability of universal benefits and her comment that Scotland is a "something for nothing country".
Were pensioners getting free bus travel, families with free prescriptions, or students working for degrees after something for nothing, he asked rhetorically.
"Those who want something for nothing according to Labour are your friends, neighbours, the workers at your side, your parents, your grandparents, your children.
"[Scots] don't want something for nothing.
"They just want the right to live in a country which understands the importance of society.
"A country that knows the value and not just the price of the services we hold dear."
And he lacerated Tory leader Ruth Davidson for claiming only 12% of Scots were net contributors to the country's wealth, and the rest unproductive.
"Consider the mentality that seeks to depict just about every pensioner in the country as 'unproductive'. I don't know a single Scottish pensioner who has been less productive than David Cameron or George Osborne."
Avoiding the jargon-heavy economic arguments of the past, he offered a softer pitch which boiled independence down to concern for "family and future".
With opinion polls consistently showing support for separation lower among women than men, he put particular emphasis on families.
He announced that the Family Nurse Partnership scheme, which offers intensive support to teenage mums in four health boards, would be rolled out across Scotland by 2015 at a cost of £11 million, and said he wanted family support centres "in every community" after independence.
Announcing 400 new jobs at mobile-phone company Three – based at the firm's call centre in Glasgow – Salmond said many of the posts would be targeted at young people.
Acknowledging low support for independence in the polls, he said: "We know there are many of our fellow citizens who remain to be convinced about the merits of independence. But we also know there is a majority for change in this country."
Asking the one-million-plus people who voted for a Scottish Parliament in 1997 to protect what had been achieved and complete "Scotland's home rule journey", he said: "I ask all those who wanted that fairer and more democratic country to pause and reflect on the kind of nation they would now like Scotland to be."
He went on: "Westminster has had its chance and Westminster has fallen short. It is incapable of putting Scotland first. We face a Westminster government that is hell-bent on pulling our society apart at the seams. Austerity, a one-way street, with tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor. Billions to be spent on new nuclear weapons while families struggle to heat their homes.
"What kind of brave new world is this? Now is the time for Scotland to seize a different future."
Labour leader Lamont said: "This is a man who believes in cheap slogans but won't fund the policy behind them.
"He wants to spend the next two years trying to sell a bill of goods to the Scottish people he knows we don't want, while he ignores the real concerns of Scots; jobs, a decent education, proper health care and dignity and serenity in old age."
Davidson added: "This was a lacklustre speech inspired by division and with little substance.
"We have a First Minister running away from how we pay for future services who simply refuses to produce facts and figures and how a separate Scotland would be better off on its own."
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