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Scotland's National Conversation took on an international dimension today with the publication of the Scottish Government's paper on Europe and Foreign Affairs.
Minister for External Affairs and the Constitution Michael Russell launched the document in front of an invited audience in Brussels including European Commission officials, representatives of Member States and expatriate Scots.
Mr Russell said:
"I believe we are at a key moment in Scotland's story. Over the past two years we have taken our National Conversation on Scotland's future around the country explaining our views and hearing direct from members of the public.
"This paper on Europe and Foreign Affairs sets out options for the people of Scotland if they choose to seek further responsibilities for their Parliament and Government. These options range from maintaining the current arrangements, through to greater devolution or full independence.
"It is time that Scotland had a stronger voice in Europe, and indeed beyond, to represent our interests, needs and priorities. I believe that independence is the best option to move Scotland forward, allowing us to take a full and active role in the international community, as other countries do, and develop a distinctive foreign policy based on Scottish security, political, social and economic concerns.
"An independent Scotland would continue to be a member of the EU, fulfilling the responsibilities and reaping the benefits which membership brings. This would ensure proper and full involvement in all the EU institutions, with the normal rights of representation for full Member States.
"There is of course a direct link between building Scotland's strong global identity and our work to increase sustainable economic growth. Scottish taxpayers already contribute significantly at a UK level - £568 million for the UK Government's "international services" could be attributed to Scotland in 2007. An independent Scotland could decide for itself an appropriate level of expenditure on these or other services.
"Ten years on from the creation of the Scottish Parliament, it is clear that change is needed in Scotland and in how we are represented on the world stage. I now look forward to a full and open debate on this vital issue of Europe and Foreign Affairs before inviting the people of Scotland to make an informed decision about their future in a referendum on independence."