Monday, January 21, 2013

Scottish Emigration & Independence

A replica of the emigrant vessel The Hector

Last August there were a spate of articles regarding Tom Devine's new book, To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora, 1750-2010.  I posted several on this blog, but it seems I missed one. On 23 August 2011 The Scotsman published an article entitled "Home and away Scotland still makes a difference" by Joan McAlpine (SNP MSP for South of Scotland).

In my experience, when politicians mention migration it is to complain about immigration policy; not often one does on find articles by politicians complaining about emigration, at least not in America. While I was intrigued by the novelty of such an article and liked the introductory reference to Edwin Muir, I must admit to being slightly disquieted by this one. For starters it greatly oversimplifies emigration and the reasons for it and fails to understand the context for the statistics presented in Devine's work.  Fair enough, she's not a historian and like all of us, she has selected what suits her purpose. Reading a litany of what I didn't like would be tedious in the extreme, so I will mention just two.

McAlpine states that lots of people emigrated from Scotland, Norway and Ireland in the past and two of these countries are now independent, implying, it seems, that Scotland should also be independent. While this may be the case, I'm not sure that past emigration statistics really make a persuasive case for a break-up of the UK. She is correct that Scots left because they thought they could make a better life elsewhere, but neglects the point that other people came to Scotland for precisely the same reason. Economic advancement is completely relative to one's starting point.

After meandering around emigration, the benefits of Union and back again, McAlpine turns her attention to the Diaspora. I have written on a bit on this blog about Scotland and its Diaspora (see this post, and this one, and this one). Previously my thoughts on the subject were relatively positive. However, after reading McAlpine's references to "exploiting" the overseas Diaspora (and it seems she means the Ancestral one here since she is writing about historic emigrations) and this same Diaspora providing a harvest for Scotland, I'm not so sure. I am not something to be exploited (if I were, I'd still be a adjunct college instructor), nor am I something to harvest; and neither is my mother, my sister, nor any other of my fellow citizens with Scottish ancestry. We, none of us, exist for the sole benefit of Scotland.

Maybe it's all in the phraseology - being asked to help a Scottish enterprise in a mutually beneficial arrangement is one thing, being an object of exploitation is another.

I suppose it's all water under the bridge as this article is over a year old. I'm probably being hyper-sensitive anyway, particularly since this article was not written for an American audience. I'll leave it to others to deconstruct the article in terms of Scottish politics.

1 comment:

John W. King said...

That's politicians for you!

Obviously with little industry left it makes sense to promote genealogy tourism - but she uses terminology that is likely to offend and alienate the very people she should be trying to persuade! Seemingly oblivious to the fact that people with Scottish ancestry are likely to be reading the online edition of The Scotsman!

As someone born in Scotland I'd like to apologise on her behalf!


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