By Anthony Salamone

LAST week’s Programme for Government contains significant pledges on European and international relations. The list includes a global affairs framework, new representative offices, greater bilateral cooperation, more diaspora engagement, a national brand, cultural diplomacy strategy and increased international development funding. Behind them is an unmistakable aspiration from the Scottish Government to increase Scotland’s global profile.

Whatever our constitutional future, it makes sense for Scotland to engage with the rest of Europe and the world. Yet such engagement is often perceived – most unhelpfully – as simply an extended dimension of the independence debate. Both sides of the argument should keep external affairs and the constitution separate.

The Scottish Government should approach EU and international affairs on the basis of clear, specific and realistic priorities. Individual initiatives will count for little without a suitable strategy. All will depend on this forthcoming global affairs framework.

To succeed, the framework must articulate a cogent, post-Brexit, long-term vision for Scotland’s European and international relations. It must recognise the substantial challenges which Scotland faces to having influence. Scotland is not a state; it is not part of the EU; and the Scottish and UK governments have an antagonistic relationship.

The framework should be values-based, purposeful and detailed. It should avoid over-optimism, superficiality and platitudes. Basic refrains such as "promoting Scotland’s interests" will not suffice. The argument is regularly made that Scotland needs a "bigger voice in the world". This strategy should answer the obvious question – ‘To say what?’

In this domain, the Scottish Government needs depth, not breadth. The SNP-Green policy programme speaks of engaging more with Africa, Asia and South America. In reality, given our circumstances, the strategic focus for Scotland should be on Europe. Should resources allow, the Government might then invest prudently in other relationships.

In the programme, the Government restates its aim for Scotland to join the EU as soon as possible – as a state. Opponents of independence will disagree with that objective. Yet, regardless of that debate, Scotland will not be part of the EU for years to come. Government strategy must structure European relations on that basis.

For instance, if an objective were to build strategic connectivity with the EU, the Scottish Government would prioritise establishing representative offices in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands – major member states with influence – which are not part of its paradiplomatic network. Instead, it has decided to open offices in Denmark and Poland.

While a presence in Copenhagen and Warsaw could generate benefits for Scotland, the question is the order of priority. The Nordic states are an important group for us in political, economic and wider terms – but Denmark does not drive the EU. Poland has latent potential to become more influential but, with its current politics, that prospect is in the distance. If the Government made such decisions after the strategy, and not before, perhaps its choices might have been different.

Cross-party support for European and international relations is vital to insulating them from the independence debate. The Government would be wise to seek it. Above all, a little realism could go a long way.

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