THIS weekend will see the SNP’s youth wing, Young Scots for Independence (YSI), host their first international conference in Edinburgh, with delegates set to arrive from seven different countries.

I’m proud to be taking part in a panel discussion on the continuing calamity that is Brexit, and discussing the various ways Scotland can protect and enhance our presence in Brussels in the coming months and years.

Scotland is a small, Western European country – blessed with incredible natural resources, energy potential, and a highly educated and skilled population.

READ MORE: YSI International Youth Conference: Speakers revealed

The campaign for our independence has always had within it a vital, outward-facing outlook that I believe to be key to our future success.

For a newly-established state, positive engagement and relationships with our closest neighbours and allies are not only important – it is mission-critical for our future prosperity.

What makes a state viable has as much to do with food production and education as it does currency and passports.

The domestic policy agenda cannot be overlooked or undervalued, and the power of work my Scottish Government colleagues are putting in to tackle the big issues of the day shouldn’t be undersold.

Solid domestic governance has been the bedrock of the gradualist independence strategy for decades. It is one side of the coin in our long campaign to restore Scotland’s place in the world.

Often external affairs and foreign policy can float in the abstract, but it’s in this very domain – in how the world sees Scotland, and how we see it – that we find the other side of the coin.

Across a multitude of policy areas – defence, energy security, tackling the climate emergency, trade, economic growth, and joint-working on tackling pandemics to name but a few – successful international cooperation and diplomacy are crucial to protect and enhance the rights and qualities of our citizens.

In my countless meetings with foreign diplomats, ambassadors and, government representatives, I’ve found that the interest they have in Scottish affairs is palpable.

But we must always remember: countries don’t have friends, they have interests. It would be foolish for us in the independence movement to expect meaningful interventions in our constitutional debate to emerge from abroad.

To expect so would be to misunderstand the nature of diplomacy and international relations, and set expectations only to have them dashed.

Our debate is for us and us alone to negotiate.

Effective diplomacy is multi-pronged. It ranges from the big and bold to the small and subtle.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes writes plea to SNP members urging them not to quit

There is an ocean of goodwill for Scotland across the EU in the wake of Brexit – but we cannot simply repeat the line that Scotland didn’t vote for it and call it a day.

Now more than ever, real effort must be invested by our Scottish officials and representatives to maintain a presence and positive relationship with the EU, the member states and Scotland’s strategic allies across the world.

Our journey to independence has entered a new chapter given recent events. Things are fast-moving, and while a sense of disorientation is expected during times of political change, we can’t lose sight of the bigger prize at stake.

An independent Scotland in Europe will turbocharge our economic and social recovery from Covid. We’ll be part of a global A-team, members of a bloc of around 450 million and a single market that stretches across a continent.

Scotland has as much to gain as we have to contribute, especially as the EU gathers momentum behind addressing the huge, generational challenges facing us today.

The threat of nuclear war, the climate emergency, ever-mounting challenges to democratic and international norms, a cost of living crisis, and the energy crisis are just some of the topics the EU is tackling as a collective.

Because while the challenges may daunt and the tasks at hand seem fierce, the way forward is by working together.

That advice rings true about the independence movement, it applies to Scotland – and it is the only way we all have a realistic chance at tackling threats, seizing opportunities, and building a better Europe with Scotland serving as a full, active member.

And this is precisely what the YSI is paving the way for with its international conference. The YSI conference will see delegates from Denmark, Germany, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Catalonia meet in Edinburgh to share ideas, learn from each other, and leave with the bonds of friendship all the stronger.

I’m excited to take part in this fantastic event and join colleagues from across the party in welcoming these activists to our capital of Edinburgh.

I really do commend the work of the YSI in pulling together this event, particularly international officer Olaf Stando.

Herding cats is never easy, but doing so across Europe is even harder. More power to your collective elbows!