Diaspora Strategy: Back To Our Image Problem

cropped-Phoenix45Apparently we have launched a dialogue! Outstanding because we love to talk!  From the looks of it, we have quite a bit of talking yet to do to convince some of our Scottish brothers and sisters that we are just people of Scottish ancestry who enjoy knowing where we came from and at least the Scottish part of who we are.  Just.Like.Them.  We all have different stories to tell, but when it comes to that undeniable system of ancestral markers called DNA, we tend to have more similarities than differences in our makeup with Scots in Scotland.

Scottish blogger Phoenix45.org has offered up a really wonderful example of why the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora has some work to do if we would like Scotland to understand who we are instead of who they think we are.  As we often remind people, Scotland is where the hard evidence of our pre-emigration Scottish heritage lies.  Scots in Scotland have jurisdiction over the maintenance, use and ultimate fate of those historical assets. If Scots in Scotland do not value their history and heritage – indeed if they actually run and hide from it – they are not likely to prioritize preservation to the extent that we who no longer live in Scotland would like.

So what does Phoenix45 tell us.  First, we need to understand that he speaks from a very strongly held political perspective and pursues a clear agenda in line with that perspective.  He may be biased and unfair in his writing or not.  On the subject of the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora and the Scottish clan and family tradition and history Phoenix seems to be just really poorly informed.

By way of explaining the title of his work Phoenix states “Now I called the organisation (COSCA) the Scottish Feudal Council for a reason; the ‘heritage’ which this organisation wishes to preserve is one of a fundamentally feudal nature. It is the relationship between clan chief and clan. They view this relationship through tartan tinted glasses as one which is benign, however the history is somewhat different …”

It is already obvious where Phoenix is headed with this.  Scottish heritage is not “fundamentally feudal” for goodness sakes.  True for some 80 – 100 years during the latter part of the 18th Century and almost the entire 19th Century, many Scottish people were first removed from traditional family lands to other locations more convenient for Scottish landlords and then eventually many were actually ‘cleared’ off the land, homes and possessions burned.  Many of these victims of clearance and removal eventually made their way, some voluntarily and some not to North American, Australia and other places around the globe. Pnoenix45 sees feudal fingerprints underpinning that period of suffering and condemns today’s celebration of Scottish heritage for refusing to understand the realities of the clearances.  My oh my Phoenix45, the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora understands what their ancestors suffered.

The influence of feudal ideas of land ownership on the ancient Scottish clan and family system enabled much of what occured during the highland clearances yet it certainly does not fully explain why or how the clearances occurred.  Despite the existence of many centuries of Scottish clan and family history and heritage that preceded the infection of the Dualchais by a weaponized form of feudalism, and despite the deep and subtle conplexities in the history of Scotland’s highlands, islands, borders and lowlands, Phoenix seeks to define an entire culture, heritage and history by a tiny slice of experience during the corrupted final fall of an ancient indigenous system.  It’s all he knows.

Scottish Americans are so much more than children of the clearances.  Indeed the vast majority of Scottish emigrants were not cleared or otherwise involuntarily conveyed to the New World at all.  Most Scottish emigrants came to America and British North America  by their own choice.  Once again, the reasons that they left Scotland, the reasons they chose to head west and not east or south as their ancestors had done for centuries, the experiences of the emigrants when they landed in their new homes and began to build new nations and families of their own – all of this is part and parcel of Scots heritage.  Phoenix45 recognizes none of it.

Today, through archaeology, aerial photography and other high tech scientific methods Scottish Americans can begin to understand themselves as Picts and Dalriadic Scots and Vikings, Romans and Anglo Saxons.  All of this history and heritage preceded the feudal infection from the South.  Yet Phoenix45 recognizes none of it.

The magnificent art and culture of the Lordship of the Isles and the beloved stories, music and tradition of the gaelic culture that found North Carolina, Georgia, Virginai an Tennessee so much like home and stayed to dominate those places even today –  Phoenix45 recognizes none of that.

Clearly one could go on describing all that Scottish heritage is that people like Phoenix45 refuse to recognize.  The point is, some, perhaps many in Scotland have a very narrow idea of what the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora is.  Indeed, as Phoenix shows us, many Scots do not even understand the depth and breadth of their own Scottish heritage.  Worse of all, many Scots have come to despise their heritage because the narrow thread of history that they have been shown reveals violence, deception, failure and dependence.

If all of modern forward thinking Scotland would join the Diaspora in an energetic embrace of Scottish heritage and culture, Scotland would see itself in a wholly different light – and a much better one at that!

6 responses to “Diaspora Strategy: Back To Our Image Problem”

  1. David Leslie White says:

    Many thanks for another excellent article. Phoenix45 is unfortunately not alone in his concept of the intent and beliefs of those of us who are of Scottish descent and do not live in Scotland. Sir Thomas M. Devine, author of the book “To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora 1750-2010” also appears to hold a number of incorrect observations. He is often held out as an “expert” on the topic of the Scottish diaspora. I would strongly disagree with that conclusion.

  2. There is a saying that “the best of Scots have already left Scotland and left the also ran’s behind”.

    I am Scottish as far back as I can trace on both sides of my family but I left Scotland as I was fed up dealing with organisations that hadn’t any vision at all. I left for the USA and have to say I rather thought the problems were the same there as they were in Scotland so headed up to Canada. I liked Canada’s more pioneering attitude and so now live here and am now a Canadian citizen.

    I’ve tried for some 18 years to engage Scots to do visionary projects that could have made the country billions but no takers.

    I do feel that the older Scots from a century or more ago were great entrepreneurs and visionaries. That’s why I have an enormous database of information of what the Scots did in history both at home and abroad. Today Scotland is really a pale shadow of what it was. There are of course some exceptions but you just need to look at the referendum debate to show how little the SNP know about the world.

    That said I was amazed at how much people in North America loved their clans as in history most clan chiefs did kick their people of their lands. In Scotland most Scots are not at all interested in the clans. I remember the old clan chief of Clan MacTavish visited me at my home in Scotland and said he couldn’t understand why Scots were not at all interested in their clans.

    What the Diaspora needs to do is ensure that local Scots learn more about the achievement of the Diaspora and to do that we need to educate them and so perhaps that is what we need to focus on. Produce a book that we might send to Scottish schools. Put up posters at bus stops in Scotland and rail stations. Solicit articles in the newspapers. Perhaps even create a Diaspora House in Scotland and even several of them. One in the Borders and one each in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness.


  3. Sir Malcolm MacGregor says:

    COSCA has certainly launched a dialogue, and it may well be a good thing to engage with phoenix45, despite the fact that they/he or she is so ill informed.

    I don’t think it is so much as an image problem that the diaspora has in Scotland but the representation of the diaspora in the minds of people like phoenix45. To them the diaspora is an extension of clan chiefs, who are to be vilified at every turn, despite their contribution to Scotland and the wider UK. Clan chiefs, clans, and the diaspora are part of a history the likes of phoenix 45 wish did not exist. They would prefer that the diaspora did not come to Scotland and try to understand where their families came from.

    Clans and their history are an integral part of Scottish history; the good, the bad and the ugly. Yes, Alastair Macdonnell of Glengarry was hugely involved in the clearances, which is a blight on him as a clan chief. But are we really to put in the same boat, his brother Colonel James Macdonnell who held the gates of Hougoumont Farm against Napoleon, at the battle of Waterloo, with fellow highlanders, Sgts MacGregor, Fraser and the Graham brothers, and thus changed the course of European history?

    If Clan chiefs were held in such low esteem, then why did so many in Scotland and from overseas come to the great Gathering in Edinburgh in 2009? Why did 400 attend the clan convention in 2009? Why did 1000 Macleans assemble at Duart Castle in 2012? How is it that the chief of the Sinclairs can raise a substantial sum of money to preserve Girnigoe Castle in Caithness?

    Phoenix45 is culturally averse to words like ‘heritage’ ‘tartan’ ‘Enlightenment’ ‘clans’ and the people involved in those facets of Scottish history. Even Robbie Burns gets a bad press. Quite what is to be done about this, is difficult to say. Alistair MacIntyre has some good ideas. But Phoenix45 and their Ilk may well be irreconcilable to the fact that nowadays there is a huge bond of affection between many clan chiefs and their kin, particularly overseas.

    Malcolm MacGregor

    • John McInnis says:

      My dear friend Malcolm, the reason that the 2009 convention had 400 attendees is that the other 10,000 of us could not get in. I have yearned for another such event. Alas, I fear it will not happen in my days.

      Phoenix misreads our deep affinity for the once living, breathing character from whom we got our name, whether a hero or a forgiven villain.

  4. […] It’s good to talk, as they say, and I’m enjoying the engagement that we’re getting from the Scottish diaspora as well as from various knights and peers of the realm. As regular readers will know we have been engaging with COSCA over the course of a couple of posts here and here. They have written a nice reply which you can see here. […]

  5. Armand Christopher Hayes says:

    I have been surprised by the younger generation that seem more world cultured in that they seem more of a blue jeaned, tennisshoed, tee-shirt, fleeced generation, for the most part are more interested in common rock music and just living life. They do not seem to have much flavor in kilts, pipes, whistles, bonnets, folk music or the things that give them a uniqueness—salt/seasoning of there cultural heritage. I am an American by 6 generations and am saddened that the world is going to a monotone, monochrome culture that has no unique identity…particularly one as beautiful as Scotland!
    My DNA is definitely of Scottish – Celtic origin, my mother was a Maclaren (a law) and my father was a Hay descendant. My DNA is very similar to the Clan Donald R1b1a2. I see my heritage as extremely important and one to be particularly proud of (though so many Americans are so mixed and melted they do not understand either). I guess you either see yourself as unique or want to blend in the crowd.
    -Armand Hayes, FSA Scot

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