I’VE lately had cause for reflection with regards to my career as a foreign correspondent and journalist covering international affairs. Perhaps it’s been provoked by sitting down to write a book based on my experiences in far-flung places. Over the past months I’ve been busy poring through the piles of identical little black pocket notebooks that inhabit my study. All of them are full of names, dates and descriptions of people and places.

Like shards of pottery dug up in some archaeological excavation, in themselves they are only fragments, but when brought together, they shape a more rounded picture of the lives of those I’ve met during almost four decades of reporting from overseas.

In that time from the mountains of Afghanistan and deserts of the Middle East, to the rainforests of Latin American and Africa, I’ve come across people at their best and their worst. Throughout that period there have been many heroes and villains and more than once I’ve had to shake hands with a devil.

I mention all of this because it helps put things in perspective when I’m back home here in Scotland. I’ve always found coming home the hardest part of being a foreign correspondent. So often it means facing a barrage of questions from friends and family, the answers to which you know they will struggle to comprehend.

I remember once, less than 12 hours after leaving Iraq with its bullets, bombs airstrikes and corpses of Islamic State fighters, I found myself sitting in my local Glasgow pub having a drink and catch up with friends. Where do you begin when trying to explain where you have just come from?

It’s a serious challenge to relay some grasp of the stark realities that exist in so many unforgiving places far from Scotland. As a reporter though I’ve always relished that task. That’s why in this, the first of my weekly columns for The National, I wanted to take the opportunity to give some idea to you our readers, what you might expect from the words I’ll be writing here in the coming weeks and months.

Those of you already familiar with my journalism will know that I’m passionate about how Scotland relates to the world and how our global neighbours see us.

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How useful it can be sometimes just to step back a bit and see ourselves as others see us. Time and again when looking on Scotland from afar, I see a place very different from the one I recall say 10 or 20 years ago.

How apparent it’s become that this is now a nation increasingly making its presence felt, one not afraid to speak its mind or endorse and reinforce the best of those values it holds dear. I’d go as far as to say that arguably Scotland is as politically confident now as it’s ever been, and with it has come a desire to engage more with the pressing global issues of our times.

Brexit and our relationship with European neighbours and partners; the refugee and migrant crisis; gender issues; human rights; social justice; environmental concerns – on so many fronts Scots are taking a fresh look at where they stand and how they compare to others.

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That reawakened sense of self is already resonating far and wide.

Two years ago, it was no less than Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria who told me during a visit to Edinburgh how he saw the strength of Scotland’s democracy had made it the perfect setting for a new diplomatic push for peace in Syria.

The National:

He was of course referring to the Special Envoy’s Syrian Women’s Advisory Board and the crucial role that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Government has played in its formation.

The creation of the board, consisting of 12 women from across all factions of Syrian society, is the first of its kind to be established through UN-led peace talks. Its success has already attracted the attention of other UN peace making groups, with women from a range of conflict wracked countries like Libya and Yemen looking to the template of the Syrian women’s board on which to model their own mediation role.

That Scotland drove such an initiative is something we should be proud of, and is a measure of our capability to shape the kind of “soft” foreign policy role that could become our hallmark as an independent country.

And speaking of those two thorny issues – “independence” and “foreign policy” – it’s obvious that both of course remain inextricably connected. Only with the former will we be able to have full say and control over the latter.

For that reason I’m often presented with the argument that overseas affairs should be of secondary concern here in Scotland right now. First and foremost, our political energies and focus as a nation should concentrate on that one goal of achieving independence, say those calling for indyref2 first.

From a purely tactical position, of course they are correct in that it’s crucial to get as many shoulders as possible behind the wheel of the independence movement.

But such an argument is also hampered by the same political myopia suffered by those who adopt the “charity begins at home” mantra.

Even before independence, Scotland must ensure it doesn’t exist in isolation or suffer from the kind of political navel gazing that flies in the face of a great tradition of internationalism.

I well recall at the time of the last independence referendum asking myself whether in the result of a Yes vote, was Scotland fully prepared to handle its own foreign policy issues and decision making?

If any lessons should have been learned in the years since the vote, it’s that next time around and with a Yes result, Scotland must be completely ready for taking on such international and diplomatic duties. To that end right now discussion of Scotland and its place in the world is vital.

This brings me back to my contributions to this newspaper and its sister the Sunday National, due to launch this weekend. While polemic and comment will be order of the day in the former, reportage and analysis of foreign affairs will feature in the latter. I aim to provide you our readers with a Scottish window on the world, and provoke the kinds of reasoned discourse we need to have in looking forward. I look forward to your response.