IN the aftermath of the Battle of Stirling Bridge we know that one of the first acts of the new Guardians of Scotland, William Wallace and Andrew Murray, was to write the Lubeck letter, telling our European partners that Scotland was once again open for business.

International affairs have always been an important part of life in Scotland. Relations with our direct neighbours and those further afield plays an important part in any nation’s development.

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Scotland has played an important part on the world stage throughout the centuries, and continues to do so to this day. There is no question that we have a significant foreign policy footprint but, surprisingly, little debate on how we use that reach. The Scottish Government has made a good start of harnessing in recent years Scotland’s foreign policy potential, but it is just a start.

Further developing and debating what our international policy looks like would bring benefits to our economy, cultural life and politics domestically, as well as enrichen the international community.

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Let’s start with the diaspora. Scotland has a widespread and influential diaspora with a truly global reach. It is difficult to go anywhere without meeting Scots living, working and forming part of the social fabric of their adopted homes.

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I remember almost 20 years ago, when Georgia was still little visited, even managing to rustle up enough Scots for a pretty decent Burns supper in Tbilisi, raising funds for a local orphanage.

In the United States alone it is estimated that 20 million of its citizens have some Scottish ancestry. Amongst them many of the most prominent figures in the world of business, politics and culture.

The Tartan Day celebrations, on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, have been a great success, but we are just scratching the surface. The same goes for countries across the Commonwealth, Europe and elsewhere.

Even more exciting is that the diaspora is not simply made up of those with ancestral connections. A recent study by my former Westminster colleagues Roger Mullin and Michelle Thomson illustrated that “affinity Scots” make up an important part of the diaspora. Affinity Scots are those who may have been educated or worked here, or have some other connection. They suggest that the diaspora could be considered a “civic diaspora”.

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Countries the world over make the most of their diaspora community. The Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs invests in and makes the most of its global community. It acts as a shop window on the country as well as a resource for the Irish overseas. Elsewhere countries like Armenia, India and Israel, amongst others, have used the clout of their respective diasporas to further national interests.

A diaspora is a national asset even in the most far flung of places and a huge resource for any state. However, having a good and respectful relationship with your near neighbours will always be crucial.

The European Union is important because it has built prosperity, security and peaceful co-existence over the past 70 years in our neighbourhood.

It is not perfect but bringing together 28 independent and sovereign states never will be. That said, its successes far outstrip its imperfections.

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Since the EU referendum in 2016 the outpouring of good will towards Scotland has been phenomenal. At every level of the EU institutions and in the member states there is an awareness of, and respect for, Scotland’s clearly expressed wish to remain part of the EU.

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That good will is a valuable commodity and Scotland is well placed to build bridges between the EU and the UK. That would bring political clout and economic benefits as well as helping with some of the unnecessary damage caused by Brexit and its aftermath.

The EU is built to respect each member state regardless of size. Similar sized states such as Ireland and Denmark have shown how to make the most of the EU to benefit their citizens.

Over the course of Brexit negotiations Ireland showed itself to be more than a match for its friends in the UK when it comes to winning friends and influence.

Ireland has recognised that sometimes the best way to enhance your foreign policy goals is by pooling and sharing sovereignty with like-minded neighbours in a partnership of equals, at a time when the Westminster Government appears to be increasingly uncomfortable with that prospect.

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Amongst our more northern neighbours we also see a divergence in Scottish and UK foreign policy priorities. Countries in the high North are increasingly seeing the value of building greater cooperation with Scotland. As shipping lanes open there will be environmental and security challenges as well as economic opportunities. Scotland is very much seen as being part of that community, and you only need to look at a map from an Arctic perspective to see the importance of Scotland and Scots ports such as Aberdeen and Lerwick.

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The warmth towards Scotland when the First Minister addressed the Arctic Council was palpable. Scotland should not be afraid to build a positive relationship with our northern neighbours. An area of policy far too often overlooked in Whitehall but one that is increasingly important. The Scottish Government is right to position Scotland as “a European gateway to the Arctic”.

Scotland has a well-known brand among these neighbours and throughout the world. That brings economic and political clout as well as humanitarian benefits. NGOs who work on some of the most difficult and intractable conflicts around the world are increasingly seeing Scotland as a safe space for peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

As Mark Muller Stuart, the founder of Beyond Borders Scotland and UN mediation adviser, noted in his book on his work on Libya: “Scotland has a real and unique contribution to make in the field of conflict resolution.” We should embrace that role.

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There is no question of Scotland’s global foreign policy footprint. We are only just starting to explore the possibilities. Ahead of independence the UK Government should not be afraid to decentralise foreign policy, and are missing a trick in not fully embracing that resource.

It is also clear that as an independent state Scotland would have a real head start with a well-defined and unique place in the world. That is an enviable starting point and will bring benefits to our own citizens, neighbours and the wider international community.