THE UN Security Council is the most powerful institution in global affairs. Situated at the centre of the UN system, it is responsible for responding to the most serious and pressing international issues – often with mixed success.

While the US, China, Russia, France and the UK have permanent places, the remaining 10 seats are allocated by regional groups and elected for two-year terms. Future reform of the permanent membership seems inevitable, yet remains elusive.

This week, the two non-permanent seats for the Western European and Others Group are up for election, with voting on Wednesday. The candidates are Ireland, Norway and Canada. As an independent country, Scotland would be part of the same group as a European small state.

The international profiles of these countries and the UNSC election offer insight into how Scotland could conduct its own engagement at the UN and wider foreign policy.

Ireland, Norway and Canada have each sought to build their international reputations on strong support for multilateralism, active championing of human rights and sustained contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. Such efforts are commendable, although it is important not to be too idealistic – they have challenges and failings to confront like all states.

These international reputations are intrinsically linked with bids for the Security Council. In order to secure prospective votes, countries draw on their record at the UN and beyond. Significant planning is required and campaigns are usually years in the making. Timing is also crucial – deciding which election to contest.

Current politics, potential competitors in the regional group and the length of time since last holding a seat (if ever) are all factors.

It is also expensive. No uniform accounting or reporting exists but taking all the work involved into account, campaigns normally cost several million dollars.

If successful, the prize is a place at the top table of global politics for two years. Holding the rotating presidency of the Security Council for a month is particularly prestigious.

Suggestions are that Norway and Ireland are more likely to succeed than Canada at this election. However, no opinion polls are conducted and the vote is done by secret ballot. The risk of losing is another potent consideration. For instance, if Canada does lose, it will undoubtedly add to the existing political difficulties facing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As a small state in the world, multilateral institutions – increasingly imperilled these days – would be vital for an independent Scotland. They would re-inforce its sovereignty and help to somewhat equalise its position in the face of great powers.

The European Union is a major global force, and EU membership would substantially amplify Scotland’s voice in the world. Becoming an EU member would also change the nature of Scotland’s foreign policy, by functioning as part of EU foreign policy.

In reality, a seat on the Security Council would probably not be in prospect for Scotland for at least the first decade of UN membership. However, laying the groundwork for a future bid at the right time would begin from the early days of independence.

We must also think more broadly of how Scotland would define itself in the world and the contributions which it would seek to make to global progress.

As I wrote in a report for the Scottish Parliament, Scotland’s Engagement in the European Union, countries build international profiles based on areas of focus and expertise which assist their European and external objectives.

Norway has cultivated a strong profile as a peace-builder and mediator. This global role is based on factors such as its diplomatic network, international aid, related research institutes and NGOs in Oslo, and Norwegians in high-profile UN posts.

Scotland already has promise for international profiles in climate change and renewable energy, human rights and wellbeing, and democracy and civic participation which could be significantly developed.

To be successful, national efforts must be concentrated on a select number of core profiles. Such decisions must be long-term investments – they cannot change every few years with different governments or political directions.

Much of this work can be taken forward before independence. Government has a crucial representative and co-ordinating role, but a meaningful international profile involves a wide range of different actors.

Scotland would also begin to have a distinct geopolitical identity. An independent Scotland, founded on a values-based foreign policy, EU membership and support for the UN, would be strongly placed to make its impact on the world.

Anthony Salamone is Managing Director of European Merchants, a political analysis firm in Edinburgh