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Why Alex Salmond's timetable after a yes vote is too much too fast

Last month the Scottish Greens strongly endorsed the Yes Scotland campaign, and I'm looking forward to campaigning for a positive vote for independence in 2014.

Before we can convince undecided voters though, it's important to know what happens if they do vote Yes. In that event the Scottish Government will need to act quickly to get the ball rolling and turn a mandate into a reality.

But it's important not to understate how much has to happen between the referendum, probably in October 2014, and the transfer of power. I am deeply concerned at Alex Salmond's assertion that an independent Parliament can be elected as soon as May 2016.

Let's consider what has to happen in those 16 months.

First of all everyone will need to get over the shock. Even if the polls are looking good for the Yes camp in the months before the vote, both sides will need time to adjust to the new reality. Elation and defeat will need to subside if we're to work together to build a successful independent Scotland.

Negotiation will begin between the two governments about assets, liabilities, debts, and the framing, drafting and passage of legislation through both parliaments. None of this can really make progress until the UK election in May 2015 and the possible formation of a new UK Government.

Then we'll approach the myriad international treaties; what rights and obligations will we want to continue? Which could be inherited? Which would need to be renegotiated and under what terms?

For all currently reserved functions we'll need new organisational infrastructure, or an agreed arrangement for their continuation (which would reduce the scope for independent action). This covers an alphabet soup of acronyms, from the DVLA to the UKBA, and from HMRC to the HFEA. It's a very long list.

Don't forget the vital constraints which fetter government power. The UK has a long history of constitutional documentation, though no single text called the Constitution. It is a centuries-long story of fettering the power of monarchs and governments. We'll need at least the beginnings of a new constitutional framework, developed on a participative basis.

We must also reform the Scottish Parliament to give it the capacity to hold an independent government to account. Both these would need cross-party co-operation; difficult at the best of times. If we fail to achieve this, we'd end up with a period of unfettered power at St Andrew's House, which I hope no-one would be willing to see.

All of this in 16 months – less time than the current Scottish Government is spending on simply drafting a white paper about the process. This breakneck speed would risk mistakes that could never be put right, and an arbitrary deadline could give the UK Government crucial advantages in negotiations.

I believe the SNP's white paper next year must set out a calmer transition process, to be completed over the course of the 2016 Parliament, rather than at its election.

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