Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Does Scotland Care About the Diaspora?

Yes, Scotland does care about its Diaspora. However, they don't seem to know exactly who the Diaspora is.  In the reports mentioned below there seem to be several ways of defining the Diaspora, then even more ways of dividing it up, and then different ways of engaging with each part of the Diaspora.

The Scottish Diaspora and Diaspora Strategy: Insights and Lessons from Ireland at 49 pages is the longest of the reports issued in 2009 and wasn't what I would thought it would be. It looks to Ireland as an example of how to engage with and support their Diaspora. It also summarizes what Scotland is already doing (like www.scotland.org, GlobalScot, etc) and how the Scottish situation differs from the Irish. Most notably regarding the latter is that Ireland is an independent state, while Scotland is not. Like the other two reports, this one, asks who exactly belongs to the Scottish Diaspora (Section 4) and discusses the work of three different scholars regarding this topic, William Safran, Robin Cohen and Roza Tsagarousianou. Ultimately, they prefer Cohen's definition because it is quite broad and does not require the Diaspora to have been forced out. Section 5 discusses models by which Scottish Government could foster engagement with the Diaspora. Section 6 discusses the characteristics of the Diasporas, which in the Scottish case sounds much like those mention in this post. Section 7 recounts the reasons why Scotland should want to engage with the Diaspora and Section 8 discusses the policies already enacted by each country. The report concludes with Section 9 and offers "next steps" in Section 10.

Scotland's Diaspora and Overseas-Born Population is based on a similar 2004 working paper from New Zealand. This report is mostly concerned with identifying the those who were born in Scotland and now live elsewhere or the "lived Diaspora". This number is estimated to just over 1 million people, or 20% of all living people who were born in Scotland. Most of these individual now live in England, so technically speaking they have left the nation of their birth, but not their state. A close American analogy is if you were born in Ohio but now live in California; despite this move you still live in the USA. The report also considers the "reverse Diaspora", those who have migrated to Scotland. As I was living in Scotland at the time of the 2001 Census, the figures from which this report is based, I am included in this grouping.

Engaging the Scottish Diaspora: Rationale, Benefits & Challenges again engages with the term "diaspora" and like the first reports settles on a broad definition that is almost synonymous with migrant. Diaspora groups are then divided into several subgroups (Section 1).  One subgroup, the Overseas Diaspora Group is further divided into the Lived Diaspora (which includes those who have lived and studied or worked in Scotland, but were not born there); Ancestral Diaspora (which is self-explanatory, but they ask - how many generations get included); and the Affinity Diaspora (basically those who just really like Scotland, without a known blood connection).  The three main engagement roles are through Business, Knowledge and Culture. There is a neat discussion, with graphics about the way people can move through the many different Diasporas. Finally, a Framework for engaging the many Diasporas is presented. A suggestion for this is to cultivate a Diasporic Identity (Section 3). I'm not sure which Diaspora they mean and if they mean the Ancestral one how they will overcome the Tartanized image of Scotland, which Scots dislike, and the whole British/English/Scottish confusion that exists, particularly in the United States.

This trilogy of reports, while not riveting reading, is interesting. I was particularly intrigued by the many different interpretations of the word "Diaspora," as I had never really engaged with its contested nature. A key component of historic emigration studies is to understand how governments either supported or hindered their subjects movement; the British Government did both. Now, the Scottish Government, like many other countries with sizable Diasporas, are trying to figure out how to leverage the support of those who have left for the benefit of the modern nation. Is it just me, or is this irony on a cosmic scale?

As an intellectual exercise and as policy, I find these plans by the Scottish Government to be worthwhile and probably long overdue. On the other hand, as a member of, at least according to Engaging the Scottish Diaspora, the Lived and Ancestral Diasporas, I'm not entirely certain how I feel about being a commodity to be leveraged.

Two reports on the Diaspora were published in 2010 and I will look at those in Saturday's post. In the meantime, if you care to, look at the reports from 2009.


Chris Paton said...

My feeling is that Scotland - i.e. officialdom - is interested in the diaspora's money and the 'leverage' - hence cringeworthy initiatives to perpetuate stereotypes such as Homecoming 2009 with its 'tartan parades' and 'Gatherings' etc, the pomp of which appeals to aspects of that diaspora but seem completely out of touch to the modern inidigenous Scot, as it pitches an idea of Scotland overseas that is not the country we live in today. "What clan do I belong to?" is one of the most difficult bubbles that often have to be burst when people wish to trace their family history from overseas, as the clans died out as a unit over 250 years ago and only came from the Highlands. The romance of its attracts overseas descendants of migrants, but that image only concerns one part of Scotland, and from another era. I've seen efforts over here to try to introduce the Tartan Day event from North America, but no-one here is having it, it's just not us! On the plus side, it can often be fantastic to show our cousins where they really came from, and the real story of who they were - and not the fancy dress that our nation thinks they should wear.

Certain groupings such as the Gaelic community have more genuine links with its diaspora - eg. the two way linguistic links to Nova Scotia and part so the US in understanding the Gaelic language and Scottish traditions, some of which have been preserved overseas and lost here (step dancing, for example), and there are also some excellent overseas Scottish education resources (University of Guelph etc). Those are relationships with the diaspora based on respect and understanding for each other.

Ireland in some ways is a bigger offender - the recently introduced Certificate of Irishness is a cynical money-making ploy from a country now broke, and actually conveys benefits to overseas visitors that the Irish taxpayers themselves don't enjoy - such as discounts at tourist attractions.

Anyway, a few thoughts!


Lynn McAlister said...

I'm a Canadian of Scottish descent who lived in Scotland for a number of years and did a history degree at Aberdeen. Unlike those of the diaspora mentioned in your earlier post, I was always interested in the modern nation, in how Scots live today as well as how they might have lived 200 years ago. I found a rather two-sided attitude towards the diaspora. In the abstract, everyone seemed to be very aware that Canada especially (and to some extent the US) was full of 'Scots'; however when faced with an individual of Scottish descent, they were generally baffled by that person's sense of identification with the country. They found it impossible to comprehend that, before the colonial era, Scotland's history was just as much the history of people now living elsewhere as it is their own - as if the people who settled the colonies simply *had* no history before arriving in their new homes. I found it very interesting. That said, once I'd been there for a few years, people tended to forget I wasn't actually Scottish anyway.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...