OVER this weekend millions of people around the world will be celebrating St Andrew’s Day. Those who are Scots by birth, residency, ancestry or affinity will mark Scotland’s national day with celebrations outside our borders being as numerous as those within.

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That global reach by a nation that has not yet achieved full statehood is quite remarkable and a recognisable national brand that most independent states would love to have.

Scotland’s soft power is a significant resource and one that can be used for tremendous good in the world.

There is also a need for Scots to consider what kind of role we want to play on the world stage after independence and even, in the interim, within the Union.

St Andrew’s Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the kind of role we should be playing in the international community and further developing our place as an outward looking nation that seeks to work in cooperation with our partners in Europe and beyond as an equal.

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Scotland already punches above its weight in the international arena. It is almost 10 years since Scotland passed world leading climate change legislation. That action won plaudits from across the globe, and at the critical talks in Copenhagen leaders as diverse as governor Schwarzenegger of California and president Nasheed of the Maldives heaped praise on our nation’s ambition and leadership.

We also act as a resource for those working in peace-building. Scotland acts as an attractive and discrete venue for bringing conflicting parties together.

There is an attraction in the vast array of expertise that we have gathered and the fact that Scotland does not carry, fairly or not, some of the baggage that the UK does.

As the senior UN mediator Mark Muller Stuart, pictured below, remarked central governments “should no longer, exercise a monopoly over peace-making” and that Scotland “can play a valuable role in the resolution or transformation of conflict”.

The National:

A Scottish identity can also be useful overseas for those working in difficult areas as The National’s David Pratt will testify.

Some years ago, I was in South Ossetia, a breakaway territory in Georgia. This was before the devastating 2008 conflict but even then ceasefire line remained tense. I was talking to some of the hardened veterans of a previous conflict there and broke the ice talking about their love of Burns that had been widely read throughout the Soviet Union and translated into its many languages, including Ossetian.

It is those connections to Scotland that can be so valuable. During a time that relations between member states of the EU and the UK are restrained our continent is littered with prominent and influential decision makers who have benefitted from an education or working in Scotland.

As the MP for St Andrews I am particularly proud of the university’s campaign to highlight its students, staff and alumni, 45% of whom come from outside the UK, as being “internationally Scottish”.

What a great way to harness that goodwill from those who have benefitted from an education at an institution that bears our patron saint’s name.

Yet all too often this resource is disregarded and overlooked by the Foreign Office.

I am reminded that at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, the Westminster Labour government at the time refused to allow Scotland’s First Minister to attend as part of the UK delegation.

He turned up anyway to make the case for international action, winning plaudits for Scotland and its government, and making the UK Government look churlish in the face of a global climate crisis. That kind of centralised attitude to international affairs benefits no-one.

Tomorrow I will lead a St Andrew’s Day debate in the House of Commons. At a time when the UK looks in bad need of some goodwill and friends in the international arena, it could do worse than seek to harness Scotland’s formidable soft power.

There are many UK diplomats spread across the world who do fantastic work in some of the world’s most difficult areas and to work towards peace as well as doing their best to bring jobs and investment into Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. However all too often they are held back by an unimaginative and centralised approach to foreign affairs.

As the world marks St Andrew’s Day, the FCO needs to think again about how this resource can be deployed. Similarly, as we look to our own future, those of us who believe in independence need to continue to make the case about how we work with others and the added value we bring to the international community.

Back in St Andrews, the cathedral is celebrating its 700th birthday, having been built as thanks for the Battle of Bannockburn and a message to the rest of the world about Scotland’s place as part of that community. Maybe we ought to catch up with some of that forward thinking.

Stephen Gethins MP is the SNP Foreign Affairs Spokesperson and a Member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee