SCOTLAND needs to develop a more ambitious foreign policy, which could include becoming an international “hub” for conflict resolution, a former SNP MP has said.

Stephen Gethins, who is professor of practice at St Andrews University’s school of international relations, says there has been too little focus on Scotland’s place in the world.

Following Brexit and with the prospect of a second independence referendum on the horizon, he argues in a new book there is an urgent need for a debate on foreign policy.

Gethins told the Sunday National: “I think it is because foreign policy is reserved to Westminster there are some people who seem to think that foreign policy isn’t something for Scotland.

“But some of the most important political and societal developments in Scottish history have been as a direct consequence of foreign policy.

READ MORE: Stephen Gethins: How Scottish-influenced foreign policy could bring hope

“It is a long time ago, but it informs the present – one of the first things William Wallace did after the Battle of Stirling Bridge was to write the letter of Lubeck, telling the Hanseatic League Scotland is open for business.

“Robert the Bruce had the Declaration of Arbroath and independence was brought to an end in part because of the Darien Scheme, which was a foreign policy venture in Panama.”

Gethins said there had been divergence between Westminster and Holyrood over international affairs in recent years – such as the Iraq War, which helped shift many Labour supporters, including actor Brian Cox, towards the SNP.

“Foreign policy and our place in the world has really shaped who we are as a nation and if you are going to become independent, then you have some really significant questions about how you define yourself,” he said.

However Gethins, who spoke to both independence and Union supporters for the book, Nation to Nation: Scotland’s Place in the World, which will be published on Wednesday, said those in favour of maintaining the UK also had “hard questions” to answer.

“If you are Unionist you need to be asking yourself questions that consistently the population show they want independence as a consequence of Brexit,” he said.

“In particular you have to be in your 60s before you are in an age group or demographic that backs the Union – so you have got whole ­generations who have switched off the state in which they are a member because they don’t like the direction in which it is going.

“So how do you harness Scotland’s brand and its international reputation?”

In the book Gethins says his preferred option of independence for Scotland would bring benefits such as a foreign ministry, membership of the UN and international recognition. But he argued an enhanced role for Scotland can be achieved even within the Union – with the international community starting to recognise the role the country could play in peace-building and conflict resolution.

Gethins, who was MP for North-East Fife from 2015 to 2019, said: “World leaders in conflict talk about how Scotland could be a hub for ­conflict resolution, as we don’t necessarily carry the historic baggage of Empire – which we should, but we don’t.

READ MORE: Stephen Gethins: How Scottish-influenced foreign policy could bring hope

“You can do that as a smaller state. Scotland is not a small state, we are a medium size state.”

Gethins said there was an awareness of Scotland’s “distinctive brand” around the world, which he had become aware of through his previous work in the NGO sector in areas affected by conflict in the South Caucasus and Western Balkans.

“I could speak to people about whisky and Burns and that was a real ice-breaker in very difficult ­situations,” he said.

One of those quoted in the book is Amanda Sloat, a former Scottish ­Parliament political adviser who is now US president Joe Biden’s Europe Director at the National Security Council. She said Scots have always been “leaning forward in establishing their own brand”, with a clear ­interest in presenting an identity ­distinctive from London.

Gethins said: “I spoke to Amanda when I had no idea she was going to be joining the White House. It is really positive having someone in the White House who knows Scotland.”