Scottish Independence Day would be in March 2016 in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, according to a transition paper published by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The paper outlines what Ms Sturgeon hopes will be a smooth transition in March 2016 followed by elections to an independent parliament in May.

It does not specify a date but March 31 is not only the end of the financial year, it is the Thursday Holyrood would expect to rise in any case ahead of campaigning for the next election.

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The paper sets out plans for a written constitution, to be devised by the first parliament and the public, which could outlaw "weapons of mass destruction" in Scotland.

It also describes the constitutional platform for independence, drawing on the "spirit" of the Edinburgh agreement between Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond on the legal staging of the referendum.

Ms Sturgeon said the publication, the first in a series of information papers to be released ahead of the independence white paper in the autumn, was an important contribution to the debate on what could happen after the referendum vote.

She said: "Our proposals, set out today, would see this platform put in place immediately prior to the Scottish Parliament elections, to provide the newly-elected Scottish Government with the full range of powers it needs to develop the country.

"Today's paper provides the people of Scotland with a clear road map as to how Scotland would make the journey from a devolved system of government with the levers of power retained at Westminster, to a nation in which the powers of our national Parliament are complete and in which the people are sovereign."

The paper, “Scotland’s Future: from the referendum to independence and a written constitution” describes that 17-month time frame as “an orderly and co-operative transition process.”

It also says this is in line with international precedent – of the 30 countries around the world that have become independent since 1945 following a referendum, the average length of time between the referendum and independence day has been approximately 15 months.

It envisages representatives of other parties and wider civic Scotland being invited to join the Scottish Government in negotiating and agreeing the independence settlement.

There would also be a written constitution, drafted by a new constitutional convention for Scotland, involving the people of Scotland and a wide range of interests from across Scotland’s institutions and civic society.

Ms Sturgeon called on the UK Government to adhere to the Electoral Commission’s recommendations by agreeing to early discussions about how Scotland will move forward following the referendum, with this publication providing a solid basis for those discussions.

She added: “An independent Scotland is not an end in itself, rather it offers us an opportunity to build the kind of country we all want to see – an outward looking, prosperous and successful nation that reflects the values of fairness, enterprise and opportunity.”

Scottish politicians agreed last week on the wording of the referendum question following advice from the Electoral Commission.

The question will be: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

The date for the referendum has not been confirmed but is likely to be held in autumn 2014.

In an accompanying letter to Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary in Mr Cameron's Cabinet, Ms Sturgeon repeated her call for talks about the process of potential independence.

She said: "There is no reason that talks on the process required to make Scotland an independent country - if the people of Scotland make that choice - cannot begin now and be conducted in the same constructive and co-operative manner that would lead to a smooth transition.

"This paper is the first of a series of publications that will inform that debate, and provides the foundation for such discussions. I would urge the UK Government to heed the call of the Electoral Commission and engage on the process required following the 2014 vote."

The UK Government has insisted there will be no pre-negotiation.

The most recent poll put support for independence at 32%, while opposition stood at 47%.

Today's independence paper explores the two issues of the written constitution and the process of change.

It draws on the examples of German reunification in 1990 and the separation of the former Czechoslovakia in 1993.

In Scotland, assuming a Yes vote, independence day would be in March 2016 just before the start of the first general election campaign.

During the transition, negotiations would also be held on Scotland's place in the European Union, which Scottish National Party (SNP) ministers hope will continue.

Negotiations with international organisations will take place during the same time.

Talks between the Scottish and British Governments will need to be held swiftly, the paper adds.

"Both Governments have a duty, in advance of the referendum, to engage in preparatory discussions to exchange the factual information that will be required to underpin the post-referendum negotiations and develop an understanding of the issues that will require to be agreed after a 'Yes' vote and the approaches that will be taken to concluding those agreements," it continues.

Westminster would have to legislate to acknowledge the "end of its power" in Scotland. This would involve removing the central effects of the 1707 Treaty of Union.

The Scottish Government wants a written constitution, in contrast to the existing arrangement.

Although it would involve wider society, ministers want certain provisions included.

They range from protecting public services and the "principles of free education and healthcare" to banning nuclear weapons.

"Once in place, a written constitution will be accessible and comprehensible - improving transparency about the workings of the state, enabling the creation of a good society and a fully functioning democracy, embodying the values of the people of Scotland and giving citizens rights that cannot be taken away by a decision of Parliament," the paper states.

Mr Moore, a Liberal Democrat MP, accused the Scottish Government of creating a distraction from substantive issues.

He said: "Once again, they are devoting their energy to the picture-frame when they don't have a painting to put in it.

"We haven't even got a date for the referendum, let alone any detail on what independence would mean for people in areas like the economy, welfare, energy and financial services.

"People in Scotland appreciate the benefits of remaining part of the United Kingdom family and that is why they remain strongly opposed to independence.

"We have already been setting out our views in public on the issue of the post-referendum process. We will spell out further thoughts on this process in our forthcoming analysis papers, including our first paper, in February. Once this has been published, we will be happy to discuss our paper with the Scottish Government."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The SNP have hopelessly underestimated the scale and complexity of this. They would have to negotiate over 14,000 international treaties, a currency, the division of assets, membership of Nato and the host of international organisations.

"To say they will bang all this through in just 16 months is absurd. This will give most people in Scotland the shivers and fuel suspicion that the SNP are just making it up as they go along."

The SNP said the paper "puts pressure" on the pro-UK campaign group, Better Together, which includes the Lib Dems, Labour and Conservatives.

Annabelle Ewing, an SNP MSP on Holyrood's Referendum Bill Committee, said: "The No campaign so far has done nothing except say 'No' to every positive thing that is proposed for Scotland - that is why its support has slipped since the new year, and why we now require a swing of just over 7.5% for Yes to move ahead in the polls."

Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the pro-independence Scottish Green Party, welcomed the paper but said his party would continue to make the case for wider change.

"In any political or public debate about the constitution, we will also continue to make the case for a fully secular Scotland with an elected head of state," he said.

"It remains unclear why the Government is proposing the transfer of sovereignty two months before the election of an independent parliament, and I'm still concerned to ensure that the parliament has the capacity to hold an independent government to account from day one."