Scots Diaspora Strategy: A Journey of Discovery

There was a time not too long ago when the Scottish government seemed quite interested in building stronger and more productive relationships with its several diasporas including the potential powerhouse of the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora.  Alex Salmond’s government commissioned a series of studies in 2008 – 2009 to assess the possibilities and make recommendations for how best to proceed.   In September 2010, after receiving advice and consultation, Scotland published Europe’s first ever national Diaspora Engagement Plan and various collateral supporting documents.

I remember first reading Scotland’s Diaspora Engagement Plan document while researching background for COSCA’s 2012 Strategic Plan. The title was encouraging and made it seem like a very important document with which the Scottish American diaspora should be fairly familiar if in no other way than through a familiarity with the palpable evidence of its implementation in the USA. It wasn’t.

 Indeed, evidence of Scotland’s Diaspora Engagement Plan has become even more scarce now three years later as only a handful of the Engagement Policy’s original initiatives remain functional – we tried the websites – no go on Global Friends of Scotland; Scotland Funds; Fresh Talent Initiative. Emails bounce. Today Scotland seems to have put most of its diaspora eggs into two baskets each with a similar approach to a different segment of the diaspora.

GlobalScots. The Global Scot Program is a business network of roughly 650 global corporate and academic illuminati with Scottish connections who seem to speak to few others aside from their own and seem to have built the program using the Freemasons as their transparency template. The Global Scot program has been touted as an innovative success and has likely delivered a great business product to Scotland as it was designed. Still, it only really engages a hair more than 650 of the millions who, by modern academic definition, constitute the Scottish Diaspora.

Ancestral Tourism. The second remaining functioning program is Scottish Tourism including ancestral tourism. Here Scotland is aiming to engage with the broader Scottish Diaspora including the unique ancestral branch and, over the course of the last few years, the program been embraced by Ancestral Diaspora leaders who have largely cooperated with tightly managed Scotland initiatives as well as provided quite a bit of really valuable information and advice for free. The problem here is that ever since then-President of COSCA Robert McWilliam’s speech to the Scottish Parliament and Chiefs in Edinburgh 2009, Scotland has been on clear notice that the Ancestral Diaspora views the heavy hand and relentlessly singular focus of the Ancestral Tourism program as far too much of a one way street. While the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora is in some ways working exceptionally hard to meet the challenges of the 21st century, Scotland simply asks us to spend thousands to support the Scottish tourism industry. That is a one way street.

Unfortunately today Scotland’s two diaspora programs have been designed or have been allowed to share a common goal which is transfer of Scottish American diaspora resource to Scotland with a minimum of actual ‘engagement’ and support. While that approach may work sufferably well with a global business network it is not, in the long run, effective with Scotland’s Ancestral Diaspora. As one might imagine, this outcome also runs in a different direction than the recommendations and advice that the Scottish government received from its own advisors in 2007- 2009. It also flows against the tide of other succeeding national diaspora strategies.

If we are looking forward, and we are, the place to begin is a review of Scotland’s current Diaspora Engagement Plan, September, 2010. COSCA and its partners are currently taking a more detailed view of the Plan but a few of the highlights supporting our conclusion that a new approach is required can fit here:

Who Is The Diaspora? Scotland’s Diaspora Engagement Plan adopts a very broad definition of ‘diaspora’ which sounds like a really good thing. There is a real possibility, however, that by adopting a definition and focus that includes various types of affinity Scots, attention and resource has been drained away from a potentially much more productive relationship with Scotland’s Ancestral Diaspora – a group that outweighs Scotland’s Affinity Diaspora in numbers and loyalty not to mention enjoying a working mechanism that hands down affection and loyalty to Scotland across generations.

A Gaping Hole. Scotland’s Diaspora Engagement Plan makes no mention of the Scottish clan & family tradition. None. Nowhere in the document are the words ‘heritage’ or ‘tartan’ or ‘Gael’ or ‘Celt’ found. Even when discussing the remarkable success of “Homecoming 2009” there seems to be an almost studious negligence of the fact that the primary draw of 2009 was not Homecoming as such but the extraordinary impact of The International Clan Gathering 2009, an event tied closely to … the Scottish Clan & Family tradition.

Beyond Its Sell-By Date. Perhaps the best aspect of the current Scottish Diaspora Engagement Plan from an ancestral point of view is that the Plan is, well, past it’s sell-by date which ended with the then current Alex Salmond administration. The Scottish Ancestral Diaspora is looking forward to working with Scotland’s new administration led by Nicola Sturgeon and a new set of Ministers and Cabinet officials with a vision that reflects today’s realities and opportunities in a revisitation of Scotland’s relationship with her Ancestral Diaspora.

New Diaspora Partners. The Scottish government’s pre-Plan consultation with the Diaspora included only a wee fraction of the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora as it was in 2009 – 10. Today, the Scottish Government has a much different and more vibrant and exceptionally willing array of Ancestral Diaspora organization partners with which to engage. Fresh consultation seems appropriate and likely to yield productive results.

Promises Not Delivered: Although Scotland’s Diaspora Engagement Plan promised delivery of a ‘single point of contact’ with the diaspora, in practice today, diaspora issues are split between at least two Cabinet departments and Ministerial personnel, along with several Scottish ‘quangos’ all with differing missions, staff, procedures, limitations and potential. Here in North America, the Scottish Affairs Office does carry a great deal of potential for improved Diaspora relations, however the current administration has minimized not maximized that potential. A certain amount of unwanted and unwarranted confusion among those trying to understand how to best relate to Scotland is the result.

Likewise, the Diaspora Engagement Plan promised to “provide targeted support for projects that sustainably build links between Scotland and the Diaspora”. Scotland has failed to develop this promise into a coherent strategy for implementation and indeed, instances of the promise being fulfilled have been few and not significant with regard to the Scottish Ancestral Diaspora.

Scotland.Org: Scotland’s official online gateway to Scotland. Then there is Scotland.Org the official online gateway to Scotland and a proffered tool to achieve a closer relationship with the ancestral diaspora. Visit the ‘Scotland’s Culture and Heritage’ page and you will see an anti Diaspora message, downplaying the ‘trite’ picture of the piper on the tin can (methinks that’s us) in favor of haute Scottish cuisine, catwalk high fashion kilts (“taking traditional scottish dress to somewhere the clan chiefs never dreamed of …”) and the Edinburgh Tattoo. Again, the word tartan appears nowhere nor does the word gaelic, or clan lands or highland games or bronze age forts or sacred battlefields.

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In summary, we firmly believe that now is the time to revisit Scotland’s policies and programs regarding its Ancestral Diaspora. When one casts an eye over innovative and exciting diaspora programs and projects that are now underway in other parts of the world and thinks of all of the wonderful ways those initiatives could be molded to work productively for Scotland’s unique Ancestral Diaspora and for Scotland the result seems clear. COSCA certainly looks forward to the opportunity to help.




2 responses to “Scots Diaspora Strategy: A Journey of Discovery”

  1. John King Bellassai says:

    Bravo, COSCA! Couldn’t agree more–and with each and every word …

  2. John McInnis says:

    While I agree fully with the general conclusion of the observations you have here, I see in not so much a conscious “dis” for us diasporans but rather an omission arising from ignorance, distance in mileage and time and the limited space to promote anything other than the business at hand – stylish tourism. And, they probably have never heard of what we are over here in the US & Canada. Let’s do what we continue to do. Educate them.

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