Former First Minister Alex Salmond has said that a recent SNP delegation to Iran highlighted how Scotland can use its political profile to create foreign policy initiatives and opportunities that the UK would government would find difficulty in accessing.

Salmond’s comments came following his return to Scotland after a four day visit to Tehran during which he was accompanied by SNP colleagues Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, MP for Ochil and South Perthshire and Bill Kidd MSP for Glasgow Anniesland.

Salmond said that “opposition to Western adventurism in the Middle East, a bilateral stance in trade talks and the intent to hold open discussions without lecturing and heckling,” are key areas where Scotland outplays Westminster on foreign policy.

The SNP delegation, which arrived in Tehran on December 18, set out with the intention of exploring potential economic trade links between Scotland and Iran a country of almost 80 million people with a GDP of almost $420 billion last year.

Salmond described the opportunities for Scotland and Iran, which he says range from oil to barley.

“The Iranians have been shut out of many Western technological advances, and examples of Scottish innovation including Scottish oil pipeline technology to the creation of drought-resistant crops are all key areas where Iran are eager to open business.”

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the country has suffered considerably from trade sanctions the most recent of which came from the UN Security Council in 2006 after the Iranians' refusal to suspend their nuclear - uranium enrichment programme.

According to the SNP delegation members they were warmly welcomed in Iran enjoying much more ministerial access than the recent UK Trade and investment (UKTI) delegation to Tehran, and the Iranians sought to capitalise on Scotland’s wealth of knowledge in agricultural technology, oil and education.

“Everyone from government ministers and clerics to the waiters at the Espinas Hotel were well aware of Scotland and the journey the nation had experienced during the referendum,” said Salmond.

To Iran, the idea of Scotland becoming a separate entity intrigued those the delegation talked with.

“People were fascinated by the potential of Scotland becoming a state, and it has to be said, excited by the idea," said Salmond. One of the key moments in the delegation’s visit came with discussions on human rights.

"In my experience, open dialogue gets a very significant response,” said Salmond.

Speaking of the talks with Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari Salmond Said: “The Foreign Minister was prepared to have a dialogue with European countries to address how we can have a dialogue together. It's a much, much better way to do things. You have to have the courage to articulate your point of view and the wisdom to not lecture people, or pretend that the people you associate yourself with are any better because they're not,” said Salmond.

“Dr Zarif is the third top politician in Iran after the supreme leader and the president. He's the guy who negotiated the nuclear deal. His answer was: we are prepared to discuss human rights in Iran, as long as it is done in an even-handed way and not used as a political weapon to beat us whilst shutting your eyes to, for example, what happens in Saudi Arabia.”

Heading up much of the discussions on human rights, education and women’s rights was Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

Ahmed-Sheikh discussed Iran’s high numbers of execution, 80% of which are related to drug dealing, and spoke about the Iranians willingness to discuss an effective alternative deterrent. Some 60 per cent of Iran’s university population are women who desperately seek PhD level education.

A vital tactic in tackling these issues is consistency in approach said Ahmed-Sheikh.

One of the other significant achievements of the delegation’s visit in terms of global issues, was the positivity with which the Iranians responded to Bill Kidd’s calls for them to join the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), of which he is Co-President. The network of almost 700 members has representatives from 75 nations and currently Iran has only one representative from a minority party, and securing full Iranian representation would be an unparalleled triumph for the PNND.

Kidd said: “We have hundreds of members and Scotland is taken seriously in that organisation, because the Scottish Government has remained true to its word and maintained its opposition to nuclear weapons.”

“The response, from three of the most powerful figures in Iranian government, was one of unanimous positivity,” added Kidd.