Scottish Connections (diaspora) work: qualitative research

Reports on findings from qualitative research looking at what successful a diaspora engagement strategy should consider and include. Provides a synthesis of existing evidence and an analysis of data from interviews and focus groups with key diaspora stakeholders.

2. The Scottish Diaspora

There is no need in this report to discuss the nature of diasporas themselves or the origin of the term, as this has been explored in a number of studies.[2] Much of the diaspora literature focuses on relationships with the homeland and this relationship is demonstrated in various ways. Diasporas may travel home or remit funds to relatives 'back home'; they may support political movements and, indeed, may even retain a vote in their homeland.[3] In fact, diaspora relationships are essentially triangular ones, involving the diaspora group itself, the host society, and the homeland, which may be real, virtual or imagined, in a multitude of individual perceptions.[4] The relative strengths of these different relationships depend on a range of factors, including the attitude of the host society to the homeland, the degree to which the diaspora has been made welcome within the host society, and the attitude towards the diaspora by the homeland itself.

Within some homelands, attitudes to diasporas have often undergone significant change, often driven by economic incentives, and there has been a shift from disinterest to a position where countries have started to recognise and become involved with their diasporas. So, after being ignored or rejected from national discourses for many years, populations abroad are now being seen as important to the homeland – a shift as some have portrayed it, from 'traitors to heroes'.[5] Indeed, homeland governments can provide an 'enabling' environment with which diasporas can positively engage.[6] A good example is provided by the then president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, in an address to the Houses of the Oireachtas in 1995 arguing strongly that Ireland should cherish its diaspora. She referred to the huge numbers of Irish people living across the world, and suggested that Ireland needed to respond to desires for dialogue, interaction and practical links involving trade and business.[7] A diaspora therefore can be seen as a significant potential resource and it has tended to be the perceived economic potential of the diaspora connection which has driven the development of many diaspora strategies.

Scotland's diaspora is extremely varied. It contains a number of differing categories, such as Scots who have grown up in Scotland and then emigrated – often referred to as the 'lived' diaspora, as they have actually lived in the country. The largest group is the 'ancestral' diaspora, consisting of those whose connection with Scotland is a more distant one, resulting from the emigration of an ancestor and the strength of the connection of these 'ancestral' Scots also varies. Some value the Scottish identity while having only limited knowledge of what modern Scotland is actually like, while others visit Scotland on a regular basis.[8] Despite a generational distance from Scotland, many ancestral Scots firmly see themselves as having a stakeholder interest in the homeland

In addition, an increasing level of attention is being paid to the 'affinity' diaspora. This category of people is less easy to define but it can be considered to include those who feel a connection to Scotland, who may be active through cultural or extended family groups, or who may simply be attracted to the heritage or culture of the country itself. An increasingly large element within the affinity diaspora is that of university alumni, who may have no family or ancestral connections to Scotland, but who have studied in Scotland and, after graduation, have retained an affection for the country and may be associated with or active in alumni groups and organisations.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the size and nature of Scotland's diaspora is unclear and, in the absence of reliable data, no firm figure can be provided. MacAskill and McLeish[9] suggest a range from 40 to 80 million people, in comparison to a 'home' population of five and a half, while Carr and Cavanagh, reporting to the Scottish Government, simply refer to the diaspora as 'running into the tens of millions'.[10] Either way, the numbers are huge, relative to the size of the population in Scotland itself. Although the Scottish diaspora may be found in all parts of the world and across dozens of nations, the largest groupings are generally acknowledged to be in North America and Australasia. Data from the 2020 United States Census, for example, showed that 5.3 million people claimed Scottish ancestry, representing 1.6% of the US population, in addition in 2017 the Census Bureau identified an additional 3 million people with Scots-Irish ancestry. In Australia, approximately 10% of their population claim Scottish ancestry.[11]



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