IT will come as no surprise to readers of the National that I’m keen on Scotland in the World, and the idea of Scotland speaking in the world with our own voice. I managed to do some of that last week alongside MP friends Stewart McDonald and Dave Doogan with a two-day delegation to Kyiv in Ukraine.

The three of us went, under our own volition, as the SNP Westminster foreign affairs and defence spokespeople in order to enrich our own understanding of the issues. With everything going on in Ukraine it would be strange if we did not go to see for ourselves what is happening there and be briefed on the reality of the situation by those closest to it. Obviously, Ukraine has featured a lot in Westminster lately so it is important that we are on top of the facts and able to make up our own minds on what best to say and do.

It is not our world view and we’re working hard to win a referendum to change it, but foreign affairs and defence are presently reserved to Westminster, so as the third biggest bloc of MPs (as well as the government of Scotland) there was a keen interest on the Ukrainian side to meet us. It is also Westminster that is sending armaments to Ukraine paid for in part by Scottish taxes, and unpalatable as it is may at some point in the future make a decision on whether or not to send more troops, some of them Scottish, to the region. It would be irresponsible for us not to make sure we’re up to date and well briefed to hold this UK Government to account and make Scotland’s voice heard.

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We met a wide range of locals. cross-party members of the Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament, journalists, commentators, think tanks and academics. We also had two comprehensive briefings from deputy foreign minister Mykola Tochytskyi, and deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar at their respective ministries. At what is a busy time for both of them, they made time for an SNP delegation.

Hearing first hand the reality of Ukraine’s situation – partly occupied since 2014 – was salutary in itself, but we were struck also by their keenness to engage with us. The official meetings were given full protocol, and tweeted on the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter account. They were glad to have us there and glad of our interest and support.

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Because we do support Ukraine, as anyone who cares about international law should. This is not a far away issue, nothing to do with us, if we’re an internationalist party then we need to walk the walk as well and sometimes that involves nuance and difficult issues. An attack on international law strikes at the heart of our very worldview. It was all the more significant that we were there precisely because our constitutional agenda is very different from the government of the UK (a point we made in every meeting) but when it comes to the defence of international law we are on the same side in an international coalition.

International law matters more to smaller states than bigger ones, as we lack the delusion we can somehow get by with out it. As an aspiring international actor the SNP cares about this stuff and will always defend it. Never will an SNP minister advocate breaching international law “in a limited and specific way” as, shamefully, a UK Government minister recently did over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Ukraine has suffered terrible infringements to its sovereignty for many years, which has become more threatening lately and we are part of the international community that wants to see de-escalation, dialogue and, eventually, peace.

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The trip also seems to have wound up two sets of people – “how does this promote independence?” cry one group and “how dare you go abroad as SNP politicians?” cry the other. Both are wrong. I don’t think we’ll persuade anyone, anywhere unless we are serious, well briefed, and empathic to their issues. Everyone we met in Ukraine now understands the SNP and Scotland’s debate a lot better. Equally, at the same time, when you have the Russian army occupying part of your country and making menacing moves, not many of them had our issues uppermost in their minds and who can blame them.

They saw us (indeed protocol demands) as UK MPs, and until we’re independent, that’s what we are, with a job to do in holding this rotten UK Government to account for what it might be about to do in Ukraine. So as well as briefing ourselves up, we clearly articulated a distinctive SNP policy, distinct from the UK Government, and to my mind that makes us look serious and credible.

Others might disagree but then they’re only lining up with the other crowd, best expressed in the howling-at-the-moon Daily Express which (entirely wrongly) lambasted us for daring to talk about foreign affairs at all. So much for their precious Union.

So international stuff is a balance, and a balance of difficult, serious issues most of which will never get a domestic headline. But if we’re serious about independence we need to act like a state, talk like a state and look like a state. We’re an aspiring member of the international community, not an aspiring human rights NGO or Folk Club. If we want to be an international actor we need to start looking like it.

That’s what we did in Ukraine, and will continue to do.