LIKE many politicians, I read a lot, and one of the most influential books on my thinking, which I first read way back when I was a student, was Robert D Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy.

It is not a cheery read, and was a blast of harsh cynicism at a time when many in the west were cosily proclaiming that the end of communism meant we had won, and somehow the world would now adopt liberal democracy and free-ish trade policy.

How long ago it seems some proclaimed “the end of history” – and how naive it seems now.

Kaplan’s view, which resonated with me then and has got stronger since, is that instead of a bipolar world being replaced with a harmonious liberal hegemony, it would become more complex. In his view, interlocking issues like climate change, resource scarcity, population growth and the growth of regional powers and political religion would all combine to make the world less safe, not more.

It went a long way to form my core belief that the world is a chilly, frightening place where nobody owes us any favours, and we’ll be eaten alive if we’re not deliberately and enthusiastically part of alliances. Where the UK is on a long-term decline, the bigger, more confederal EU offers Scotland a chance to shine on the world stage in a way we will not as part of the UK, but also to have influence on it in a way we will never have as part of the UK.

Same goes for Nato – we’re too strategic to go dark, and can be a serious and committed partner in the only security organisation in town. No organisation is perfect, but in a big cold world we need to join organisations – we lack the delusion we can stand apart.

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I’ve thought of that book a lot the last few weeks thinking of Afghanistan. It is difficult to comprehend just how colossal a failure the last few weeks represent. There is no room for crowing as we all failed. Nobody has won except the Taliban. Even comparisons with the fall of Saigon miss the point. The US forces had formally left Vietnam two years earlier and the government endured another two years until 1975. Suez has more of a link to recent events in that it was the wake-up call that the UK was actually not in a position to independently control assets and events in other countries without local consent.

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So like many members of the Westminster and Scottish parliaments this week, I’ve spent a lot of time on constituency cases with locals in Stirling concerned about family and friends in Afghanistan. The lack of planning for the evacuation is staggering, even if things are catching up a little now. The hard reality is nothing now happens in Afghanistan without Taliban approval, and it seems unlikely to me that the August 31 deadline for evacuation flights to end will move. We need then to think of other routes out for people and to work with neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, to help them cope with a likely influx of refugees, many of whom will still be seeking sanctuary here.

I’m deeply proud Stirling has settled three Afghan families already, and while the new settlement scheme to my mind does not go far enough and needs to be expanded, I’m glad it is in place and glad to see Stirling engaging with it. I’m already working with the three families to do what we can to get their relatives out of danger and to a place of safety.

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We owe a debt to many people in Afghanistan. They are in harm’s way and on Taliban lists, not just because they are Afghan, but because they worked with UK authorities, believed UK promises that they would be protected and are bereft now that protection has been summarily withdrawn. We need to find ways to get them out and give them safe haven here, not throw up a dozen hostile environment red tape barriers to keep them out.

But then longer term, how will this change things? The Global Times, an English language Beijing mouthpiece, within 24 hours of the fall of Kabul were making direct comparisons with Taiwan, essentially prorating the US as an unreliable partner that will fold at the first sign of trouble. People in Eastern Ukraine, Taiwan and plenty other places will be feeling less safe now than they were.

The America First rhetoric from President Biden, be it on Afghanistan or Covid vaccines, is surprising for some, but follows a pattern. This has implications for Nato, and for the wider world. I think there is an urgent need for the states that form the EU to step up, and the world to find new ways to operate that rely less on US engagement. This will not be easy, but the fact is the structures we run the world by, be it the UN, WHO or WTO, were all designed a long time ago and need urgent reappraisal. As a smaller state, Scotland will not be the world’s policeman, but we can be a global advocate for multilateralism and the rule of law. They’ll need all the help they can get.