Alex Salmond has told a crowd of thousands of pro-independence marchers that there is now a "natural majority for a Yes vote" in the referendum.

The First Minister was among speakers at a march and rally in Scotland's capital, which drew crowds from across the country.

Marchers filled the top half of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh before winding their way along a city centre route towards a stage on Calton Hill.

Organisers of the rally said around 20,000 people took part in the event, however Police Scotland give a much lower estimate of 8,300 on the march and 6,000 at the rally.

A range of groups took part , from political parties to organisations such as Farming for YES and Football Supporters for Independence.

Some people wore kilts and had Saltires painted on their faces, while many more waved flags or held banners in support of their cause, turning the streets into a sea of colour.

At Calton Hill the crowd were entertained by singers, comedians and poets between speeches from politicians and activists.

Mr Salmond was given a warm welcome as he took to the stage and addressed the large crowd.

He said: "There is now a natural majority for a Yes vote. By a factor of nearly four-to-one, people agree with us that decisions about Scotland are best made in Scotland, not by Westminster.

"Since its restoration 14 years ago, our national parliament has proved time and again that when decisions are taken here in Scotland we get the right outcomes for the people.

"The Scottish Parliament has ensured that we have university education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

"It has enabled us to maintain the integrity of our NHS, with care free at the point of need, as well as delivering free personal care for elderly people."

Mr Salmond said he would keep Royal Mail in public hands and ban the 'bedroom tax' in an independent Scotland that he led.

We will put ''bairns before bombs'', he added as he talked about nuclear disarmament.

''We're a lucky generation, to change our communities for the better we only need to say the word, to say 'Yes'.''

The event follows last year's independence rally which brought around 10,000 people onto the streets of Edinburgh, marching from the Meadows in the city's old town to Princes Street Gardens for speeches and live music.

It comes just days after campaign groups and politicians marked one year to go until the referendum on September 18 2014.

The march got under way at midday with cheers, applause and whistling from the crowds.

Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins also spoke at the rally and said: ''I am asked a lot of questions as I take our message around the country.

''One question I am often asked is: What will we lose?

''Well, we would lose nuclear weapons, the bedroom tax, Tory governments we have never voted for, and what's not to love about that?

''We are the lucky generation that gets to vote for independence, and vote for self-determination for our country.''

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald urged the crowds to ''imagine what would happen if Scotland votes No''.

She said: ''What would people think about the Scots? That we're all mouth and no kilts.

''We would not carry respect, we would not respect ourselves and that will be reflected in the activity of the country.

''Just imagine the No campaign trying to have a party. A No party. Who would go?''

Ms MacDonald also spoke of ''the sort of vision we should be holding out in front of the Scots''.

''If it's right to keep water, postal services and the railway in public ownership then we say it,'' she said.

''We don't do it in a week or a year, but that is what we are aiming for, which is a bit better than what we have just now.''

Speaking ahead of the rally, 20-year-old student Calum Martin, from near Glasgow, said: ''It's a fantastic event, it brings a lot of people together and just injects energy and colour into a debate which otherwise can run the risk of becoming full of statistics and number crunching.

''It's a fantastic opportunity for people to get to know each other and to show their support. It's a great turnout.''

Janette McGowan, 58, from Tullibody in Clackmannanshire, hoped the event would raise awareness among people who are currently undecided or even against independence.

''It's really quite something to see,'' she said of the rally.

''We've got good weather, a fantastic turnout, lots of people dressed up with all sorts of exciting outfits.

''I just don't think Westminster knows what's right for Scotland. I think we could do a better job locally for the people of Scotland.''