Why Scottish government is committed to creating a Peace Institute – Angus Robertson MSP

As the tragedy in Afghanistan unfolds and the West withdraws from Kabul, the international community faces the challenge of how to remain engaged, influence the Taliban against extremism and not turn its back on the country and its fleeing civil society.

The annual Beyond Borders International Festival takes place at Traquair House in the Borders (Picture: David Cheskin/PA)

These are the sharp and unpleasant realities faced by the United Nations, international mediators and countries pledged to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Many leading experts in the field have been in Scotland in recent days attending the annual Beyond Borders International Festival, which takes place at the beautiful Traquair House near Innerleithen in the Borders.

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Scotland’s oldest inhabited house has been visited by 27 Scottish Kings and Queens, dates back to 1107 and has been lived in by the Stuart family since 1491. Today it plays a significant part in Scotland’s developing support for international peace and reconciliation.

For nearly a decade, Beyond Borders has offered “a vibrant international platform within Scotland, to break down borders between peoples, and help facilitate wider international cultural exchange, dialogue and reconciliation”.

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In what organisers describe as “one-of-a-kind event”, the Festival brings together internationally renowned writers, artists, cultural commentators, diplomats and politicians to exchange ideas with each other and the public about some of the most interesting and pressing domestic and global issues, past and present.

This weekend’s sessions included: discussions about ‘Scots and the Empire’ with Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, historian William Dalrymple and writer Alex Renton; and ‘Nation to Nation: Scotland’s Foreign Policy Footprint’, hosted by veteran BBC correspondent Alan Little, with Stephen Gethins of St Andrews University and former UK ambassador to Nato Dame Mariot Leslie.

Attendees also included a range of international experts in mediation and reconciliation from the United Nations, countries like Sweden that focus on the issue and individuals like Jonathan Powell who played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process as well as the New York Times international president Stephen Dunbar-Johnson who has big plans for Cop26 in Glasgow.

Beyond Borders was founded and is run by Mark Muller Stuart QC who currently acts as a senior mediation adviser to the UN Department of Political Affairs and the UN Special Envoy to Syria in the Syrian peace talks.

Before working in his United Nations role, he advised numerous international bodies on conflict resolution, mediation, confidence-building, ceasefires, power-sharing, humanitarian law, constitution-making and dialogue processes.

Scotland has in recent decades been a location for peace and reconciliation meetings, including one on Northern Ireland in St Andrews, and another on the South Caucasus at Craigellachie in Speyside. There are other additional discussions which have not been widely reported, which brought parties from domestic conflict to locations in Scotland like Traquair House to take part in private talks.

Around the world, Scotland is viewed as a hugely attractive location to hold conflict-resolution discussions.

Not only has the country been on a peaceful constitutional journey on a civic, non-ethnic and democratic basis but it has so much to offer as a venue for public or private meetings.

A broad range of Scottish-based, non-governmental organisations and academic institutions have amassed a wealth of experience and credibility around the world.

The Scottish government is committed to establish a Peace Institute which will build on this track record. Scotland has a positive role to play in the world.

Angus Robertson is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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