IN all corners of the globe there are reasons to be downhearted about the direction of travel many nations are on.

In Hong Kong, we see a brutal state crackdown on citizens who do not want their judicial system outsourced to the repressive regime in Beijing.

In the US, an increasingly ugly and strident political racism is being stoked at the presidential podium.

In Brazil, as David Pratt’s article above details, the earth’s lungs are ablaze, arguably at the behest of that nation’s president.

In Russia, citizens protesting at the banning of independent candidates from participating in local elections have been met with Putin’s fist – vindicating those of us who argued against the federation’s re-entry into the Council of Europe.

This week, however, we remember one of the most inspired and peaceful demonstrations of the power of the ordinary citizen: a triumph of three small nations that captured the imagination of the world.

Thirty years ago, on August 23, 1989, the citizens of those small European nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – took a unified, non-violent stand against a superpower.

They joined hands in a human chain spanning 600km from Vilnius to Riga to Tallinn to raise awareness of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, by which Eastern Europe was divided into Nazi and Soviet zones of influence in 1939, and to demand Soviet and international recognition of the Baltic republics’ right to self-determination.

The human chain captured the world’s imagination, publicising the cause of Baltic independence from the Soviet Union.

A positive image of the Singing Revolution spread in world media, as did its central message: Baltic independence would be a manifestation of historical justice.

The blossoming movements for independence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became bolder and more assertive, the process culminating in pro-independence candidates winning large majorities in the first free elections of all three republics in February 1990, and declarations of independence following soon after.

By the end of 1991, all three Baltic republics were internationally recognised members of the UN.

There are lessons for those of us in the world of today, and especially here in an increasingly self-assertive and self-confident Scotland, from the inspiring story of the Baltic struggle for independence and recognition.

In the world of today, the Baltic republics are full members of international organisations such as the UN, EU and Nato. Despite what one might call their relatively small size and the presence of an increasingly autocratic and expansionist Russia on their borders, they possess healthy democracies and growing economies.

Their independence is expressed not through isolation or turning inwards, but through active outward engagement and self-amplification through international bodies.

Presence in such bodies, in fact, is a guarantor of the safety and independence of the Baltic states.

The obligation to adhere to EU law has strengthened their democracies and prevented democratic backsliding as we see in many other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Trade dependence on Russia in the Baltics also dropped substantially upon accession to the EU, and new trading relationships with the rest of Europe emerged – a situation paralleling the growth of continental trade relationships in Ireland after its accession to the EEC, and therefore interesting as a case study in how new trade relationships could be set up by an independent Scotland in the European Union.

This 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way is therefore important to remember not only for the residents of the Baltic states as a pivotal moment in their struggle for independence, not only for the world as a moment of democratic triumph over totalitarianism, of non-violence over state power – but also for us here in Scotland.

As Scotland draws ever nearer to the prospect of being a similar small independent nation state, our independence movement needs to contemplate how we will engage with the world around us, and what role we will play in Europe and the world. Just as the Baltic states escaped Soviet tyranny not for isolation, but for the full acceptance of them as members of the European family of nations, the Scottish independence movement, too, is seeking independence in order to engage with the world. Other successful small European nations can teach us a lot about how this engagement could work.

Stewart McDonald is SNP spokesperson for defence