6. Interviews and Focus Groups: Analysis and Findings
In this section, we consider the information provided to us in individual interviews and focus groups and we identify lessons which may be applied to a Scottish diaspora strategy. The section is thematically organised.
Defining the Diaspora
Defining the Scottish diaspora is a challenge not only for Scotland, but often for the diaspora itself. Given the spread, overall size (which as this report highlighted at the beginning, remains an elusive estimate) and the time that the diaspora has had to evolve into its contemporary form, there are many differing opinions held, even by those who engage with, or originate from, the diaspora itself. It is fair to say that the view of who the diaspora includes, and thus what the diaspora is, can shift, depending upon the specific aim of the organisation/individual/entity involved. As one individual commented:
We will move in a slightly different direction, but as a basis for engaging with the diaspora… what definition of the diaspora we're using in this context. It's not just an individual who maybe has ancestry, birth, your type of links to Scotland, but we see it in a much broader capacity, as individuals who have a capacity, who have a passion for Scotland, and a connection with Scotland.
Thus, this individual, working for a Scottish based organisation, had a very broad and inclusive view of the Scottish diaspora, but this was not fully shared across all organisations in Scotland. Another individual was much more emphatic about differentiating between aspects of the diaspora, but this did not diminish their understanding of the importance of such individuals as potential positive representatives for Scotland.
Diaspora to me, pure diaspora, is people who have Scots ancestry, who were born and bred, maybe in the States or wherever, but they have got their Scottish ancestry and they still very much connect with that. If it's a Scottish person that's born in Scotland, but they now work and live somewhere else… that to me is not diaspora. That is an expat. Alumni can be, but alumni could be a graduate from a Scottish University who is Scottish and now works and lives somewhere else. Equally, it can be American, or Chinese… They are not Scottish… But Scotland got under their skin and then they've gone home… they can be ambassadors in the exact same way.
As we have noted previously in this report, Ireland employs a very broad definition of diaspora, and includes people who are labelled as 'affinity' diaspora and who may not have direct Irish ancestry, but feel a firm connection to Ireland. This is a clearly accepted aspect of the Scottish diaspora within Scottish Government organisations, but perhaps clarity around the definition, to include individuals from not only the lived diaspora, but also the ancestral, and affinity, is not as fully widespread.
The diaspora themselves also have differing attitudes towards the nature of the diaspora and how and when the term is used. Many have a very clear and firm definition in mind as 'people of a country/ethnicity that live outside the country of origin (or of ancestors)' but that can also be somewhat exclusive of groups that are now included in the Scottish Diaspora. In addition, previous engagement with leaders within ancestral societies in North America has shown that not everyone likes the term diaspora, itself, with some choosing not to employ it organisationally. Nonetheless, many individuals active within diaspora organisations have noted that the term 'is something that's commonly used, and I've heard it also refer to many different cultures'. Yet, even where it is regularly employed, individuals can find the term 'challenging' and may define themselves simply as 'Scots who left Scotland and now live in another place'. The challenge is just how widespread the general acceptance of the term is, as it is a definition that people do not always apply, or employ:
…here in [country]… it's a frequently used term… but I must say I would never think of myself as Scottish diaspora. I just think of myself as a lost clan, a relocated tribe. I think of diaspora as people who have had to flee misfortune. But, you know, many of us chose to leave for different reasons, leave Scotland.
What is clear from our discussions in interviews and focus groups is that individuals within what we refer to as the organisational diaspora (those belonging to established organisations that focus on Scotland/Scottishness) all know the term and use the term in both official and everyday discourse. This is because, traditionally, the term has been applied to individuals with birth or ancestry links to the nation and many organisations have also traditionally emphasised this aspect of belonging. However, while individuals from the lived diaspora (who have a direct family or birth link to Scotland) use the term, and those from the ancestral diaspora also employ and understand the term from their perspective, it is not widespread among other individuals from the affinity diaspora, or others from the educational (or what we refer to herein, as the alumni) diaspora.
What is clear from our discussions with individuals and groups is that affinity Scots are less aware of the term and often accept the position/definition that they themselves are not members of the Scottish Diaspora per se, and thus have difficulty in applying the term directly to themselves and other affinity Scots. This is also a similar concern for individuals from the alumni diaspora. Both groups indicated that they saw the Scottish Diaspora as something related to birth or family origins, and including people who were born in Scotland and emigrated, or who were taken as children to other parts of the world and had families who are thus ancestral Scots.
Such a position was especially pronounced among the alumni diaspora. Some alumni organisation leadership reached out, during the research phase of this report, to specifically inquire if their members were 'eligible' to engage in the planned focus groups. As one interviewee noted
I gather within your mandate the definition's been expanded somewhat beyond the direct kind of birthplace point of view, to include sort of the economic and academic connections with the mothership, as opposed to just the strict birth location.
Such responses were not uncommon and reflected a widespread idea among individuals from the alumni group that they were not themselves directly part of the Scottish diaspora and that diaspora as a term applied to individuals only when it meant 'where they're born or their roots are from'.
Therefore, what was very clear is that an agreed definition was not present within the diaspora we engaged with, and that the discussions around the definition of diaspora were very much an issue of distinction between varying elements and personal opinions. This was the case whether this applied to people working for the Scottish Government or agencies, or people in organisations or even among people who felt an affinity, or who had lived in Scotland for a shorter period of time (to study).
At the same time, the diaspora can also be more inclusive when considered from a Scottish perspective. More than one person in Scotland tended to include immigrants to Scotland as part of the affinity diaspora. Such groups have often been called the 'reverse' diaspora within academic and previous research, and they represent a significant proportion of the Scottish population in 2022. Such inclusion points to a firm belief among many people involved in organisations and official agencies, that the diaspora must be as inclusive as possible and that, ultimately, everyone was a part of the diaspora, if they chose to be. This is an issue that was also highlighted in relation to the diaspora as defined to/from the homeland. It was argued by more than one person that the diaspora must be considered, irrespective of where they are, as part of Scotland, as part of the homeland. This reflects a position held by other countries. Ireland, for example, firmly associates the diaspora as a part of the nation, with individuals within the Irish government saying that the country itself 'owes a debt' to the diaspora and thus the diaspora is incredibly important to Ireland as a whole.
This idea was reflected by some individuals working abroad for Scottish organisations. They pointed to both the strength of the diaspora within certain countries and how they regularly engaged with not only governmental organisations, but also wider social and cultural organisations and that seeing the voice of the diaspora in media, and the print media in particular, was a weekly occurrence in some countries. It was stated that 'it feels like that whole idea of the diaspora still being part of the country feels much more strongly developed [than in Scotland]'. Therefore, the argument was that the diaspora must be seen not only as important to the nation, but as a part of the nation itself.
Economic Drivers of Diaspora Engagement
Economic considerations have often underpinned diaspora policy, irrespective of the country in question. Scotland has been very successful in terms of establishing this as a key aspect of diaspora engagement and activity through the GlobalScot network. This network is firmly part of the diaspora through the links GlobalScots have with the Scottish Government and Scottish based agencies/organisations such as Scottish Development International (SDI) and Scottish Enterprise. It was commented that the network is 'over 1000 strong now' and it is recognised that 'a lot of it has been about attracting inward investment to Scotland'.
Many of our interview subjects spoke of the importance of recruitment to keep the network growing and fresh, and of the importance of the firm focus on trade and investment. In addition, the idea of GlobalScot as a model to be copied was discussed as it is 'well perceived by others'. Indeed, the idea of expanding the GlobalScot concept into other areas (such as the field of culture or education) was specifically highlighted. GlobalScot is seen as both a useful network and the concept is also seen as an exemplar by other governments. It is considered a model to be copied and employed, and may not only be useful for Scotland to expand in other areas, but is certainly useful for other countries to employ as an approach
The GlobalScots interviewed mentioned the effectiveness of various organisations involved with the diaspora, and working together with diaspora organisations, or individual GlobalScots. These included SDI, Scottish Enterprise, universities, charities, and other third sector and business bodies such as Scottish Chambers of Commerce. It is felt that the model not only works well in a number of ways, but the interaction and engagement aspect also worked very well with specific geographic areas and key individuals, although not always in all areas.
At the same time, it was noted that a reconsideration of the strategy behind the model, and the ongoing expansion, could be firmly addressed as to why it exists; 'I think there is a fear of people just wanting the badge without thinking about who we're recruiting or why we're recruiting them or what we can do with them'. This also related to the focus on trade or economic issues along, with a feeling that such a focus meant that the GlobalScots may be 'siloed'. There was consideration of this issue from different approaches, nonetheless. It was argued that 'there could be a little bit of a more robust job done on the trade and investment side' especially in relation to climate change as an economic and green activity. Likewise, the widespread nature of the Scottish Diaspora across the business sector in some areas of the world mean that the need to consider and recruit GlobalScots must be done outside the 'usual suspect areas'. One response was that 'I do think from a, you know, whether it's a cultural or a business perspective, we could do a better job of bringing them together. I think the Irish do a much better job than the Scottish do'. This respondent then went on to name several very highly successful individuals and several connections they had made as GlobalScots, but which they felt were not effectively engaged or currently networked properly.
One organisation that did crop up across several areas of discussion was the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Highlighted as an organisation that can, and does do sterling work with the diaspora, it was felt by some that an overseas presence or organisation would be a useful consideration for focusing on a combination of economic and cultural activity. There was discussion around the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Ottawa, for example, and the general question was whether Scotland should have something similar.
The need for organisational links was highlighted time and again, and the role that Scotland, or the Scottish Government could play in this area was also highlighted. It was an area that was stressed by several individuals who felt that some 'coordinating entity' or 'umbrella organisation' could provide direction and links. Such an entity would have:
regional chapters [for example in the USA], say Northwest, West Mountain, West, Southeast. Were you to have a lead in those territories or regions that would be available, that would help coordinate the activities of the various groups within those subsets, and those regions. Part of what their role would be is to report on what's happening in those regions and then they would be a regional entity for when the Scottish Government wanted to get out a message, it would go directly to that body... That then would then go out to the appropriate groups... It's difficult to get a message out because there are just, literally thousands of groups and so I think the local… localised strategic engagement. Not terribly formal, but structures that allow for coordination and strategic communication.
This discussion highlights a general feeling that firmer leadership and coordination could not only assist in the economic goals of diaspora policy but could also link with other areas. It was pointed out that diaspora organisations could also assist economic engagement; 'I think the Scottish Government should be trying to steer people a bit more into thinking through how can they be helpful with inward investment'.
It is clear that a technology perspective to such an entity would be important and would build on the organisations Scotland has out in the diaspora:
…how would that translate into like practical things? You know, if you'd want some sort of website where you can access all kinds of information in one place and instead of kind of finding bits and pieces … in order to actually have some sort of unit like that, we need a clear strategy in place to actually know what it is that they're doing so that they're not duplicating. I mean, would they kind of act as a hub that then directs them to the various teams that already do a lot of that work. So, it just be a kind of, I guess, suppose if it's a kind of coordination then.
It was recognised and accepted that any organisational entity would have limits and be quite challenging nonetheless 'Yes, but I don't think I'd want to be the people in that room because I think that could be quite difficult to coordinate… groups pushing back, but also groups maybe wanting to do the same thing'.
One key aspect that does stand out about the economic aspect of diaspora strategy is that it does serve as an effective platform for engagement and that it could also be widened and used to link to other areas. Perhaps, it was suggested, there is a need to see the economic as both a driver and a key to bringing in wider, cultural and social individuals and organisations. 'I am a member of the Scottish Society of Artists… I look for opportunities through that, I can connect to Scotland, I would love to come and do a, you know, residency kind of thing'.
This idea of the diaspora bringing economic, social and cultural activity to Scotland as individuals also connects the existence of diaspora tourists. They could often be called the tourists who reach the parts other tourists don't reach.
Diaspora tourists often visit areas that are off traditional tourist routes or foci. They are seeking information on their ancestry or clan history, and there is little doubt they can have both a transitory economic impact on some local areas, as well as, perhaps, a slightly longer impact. The importance of Outlander (while not always positively reviewed) was specifically mentioned, 'they're using like the movies and stuff like that to bring people back to Scotland to introduce Scotland to the world... I think they're not doing enough about the modern Scotland'. It was felt that connecting the diaspora to contemporary Scotland could have clear economic impacts, but this should not be the only driver, 'I'd like to know more about Scotland's little triumphs and efforts'. Likewise, in creating an informed connection, it would not be the only success.
At the same time, clear limits to a focus on the economy as a diaspora strategy, or as the prime aspect of a diaspora strategy was emphasised. Previous research has highlighted that there are limits to the economic focus in terms of perception from the diaspora itself. Within the diaspora it is often not regarded as the best means to drive policy forward and can in fact be off-putting. Individuals working with diaspora organisations also argued that point, as 'culture is becoming more important'. As we have highlighted, the key aspect emphasised within interviews and focus groups is that the diaspora do not wish to be seen as a 'cash cow' and that they need to feel that Scotland is reaching out to them and cares about them for who they are and their connections to Scotland.
The issue of resources underpinning any diaspora strategy are a significant aspect for consideration within that strategy. As we discussed in the case study sections above, Ireland invests money into their diaspora through a number of specific funding channels and aims them specifically at a variety of organisations in areas across the globe. This is an area that the Scottish diaspora is clearly aware of, as comparisons between Scotland and Ireland in terms of both the wider diaspora strategy, but also specifically around resources were numerous.
I think the Scottish Government is not investing enough resources into developing this relationship... I think that within the budget itself there needs to be more resources dedicated towards people on the ground, and funding initiatives… the budget is not where it needs to be. There's a lot of talking. There's a lot of reports. Good reports, good dialogue. But the resources and the budget numbers are not matching the rhetoric. There's a real gap in my view, with all the great reports on trade, on international engagement. All of that has been so positive and the points are spot on. But the budget is just not where it needs to be… I would love to be able to come back to Scotland, meet with Members of Parliament [MSPs] who do budget issues, whether it's a committee or specific ministers, and say you're not where you need to be with international budget numbers. You have to be increasing that number because you can't, you can't just write the papers and have the dialogue and have the good reports. And again, there are many of them. You have to put resources behind it. To implement the strategy and so I feel there's a disconnect between the great vision. And a lack of wind behind the sails to get us moving.
This perhaps sums up the feeling among many individuals and groups within the diaspora and working with the diaspora. 'The feedback that we always receive is to tell us to do more, which isn't always easy to be honest because there is always lots to do' and at the same time, there is recognition of the boundaries: 'there is always a money ask, which isn't as simple, and it can't always be yes because, you know, there's no bottomless money pit where we can get money for events and so on. I wish there was'. The Irish Emigrant programme was also highlighted as an area where cash was 'effectively' utilised at the individual and group level through a solid working relationship with organisations.
OK, we can't compete with Ireland. We don't have this ton of cash to dish out to different groups, but it's like how, how do you support? At the end of the day, the 'ask' is the same. It's to do their bit for Scotland and how do we do that? I think Ireland is a good case study in many ways. But the key difference for me with Ireland is that they have the financial resources for various reasons which we won't go down that rabbit hole, but they've got resources that they send out grants and whatnot to all sorts of people to do things in the States and we just don't have the wherewithal.
At the same time, while monetary resources were a specific item mentioned throughout, additional offices and staffing overseas was also highlighted. Diaspora organisations and individuals across North America noted that there seemed to be a very small number of Scottish Government offices, or Scottish organisation officials, available in a limited number of locations. Scottish organisations are aware of this, but feel that diaspora organisations may not appreciate the wider situation, 'I don't think they're aware of the resource constraints.' This situation was, again, contrasted poorly with the experience of the Irish Diaspora. Likewise, Flanders has a much more expansive organisation, which we have illustrated earlier in this report.
However, differences between the two cases of Ireland and Scotland were emphasised, 'The Scots are just kind of seamlessly integrated into lots of society but not identifiably'. Also 'the Scots are very different to the Irish and I would always cite that the Scots tend to land and expand, whereas Irish tend to stay tightly knit together'. It is accepted that that this diffusion made it more difficult to connect the diaspora both within regions and across large areas, but the importance of connection remained key. Organisational groups and individuals all noted that they sought links and support for many of their events, and clear links to Scottish Government and other organisations was vital in their mind.
Scottish Government officials also understood the problems of creating working connections and seeking to build around limited resources:
We just don't have the capacity. What we have done is give [diaspora organisations] the money and asked them to do it and organise it… the last three years has been a slow process to get them to all speak to each other. Most of them didn't know who each other were, the [officers] didn't speak to each other… And the events that they want to put on may suit their members, but not necessarily suit the purposes of the Scottish Government office. So rather than us being involved in logistics, which we just don't have the capacity for, we look for collective partnerships, either around thematic things or particular events, and they deliver them.
At the same time, while these links were often welcomed, there was a worry within some organisations about linking in with Scottish Government due to questions over who gets the credit. 'I think there's always a kind of worry, you know? ...is the Scottish Government going to take credit for it again?'. Nonetheless, the diaspora appreciated the effectiveness of working together 'I think the primary reason that the Scottish Government maybe, say the word latched on to us, or have been great supporters, is because [of] our biggest event'.
What is clearly needed is not only financial resources, but organisational aspects too, and appreciating the aims of other organisations working from, and within, the diaspora:
making sure like the events management expertise is in place. So that things run smoothly. And so yeah, I feel like it's probably more than a practical level like that. And then improvements could be made… I mean the lead in time for … events. I kind of forgot about those actually, because it's been so long since we've had one of those requests. That can be a real source of frustration.
This returns to the idea of some means by which to connect the diaspora and provide support with a limited number of Scottish Government offices and financial resources in play. In addition, as noted above, the diaspora exists within many areas of the world and it was asked by members of the diaspora when this expansion would occur. Again, it was felt that there were not enough offices and they lack spread to all the areas of the diaspora.
engaging with the diaspora in a more active way, you know, seeking out, you know, doing this kind of thing and just more actively engaging… you know, that connection back home, direct connection, active connection back home, which Scotland just doesn't seem to have, at least I'm not aware of anything like that. As I said there was that one big event that they held in [country], quite some time ago, but it was effectively a bit of a waste of money, because although it was really well done and high production value and everything else, there's just no follow-up. There's no continuity to it.
Therefore, resources are a significant issue and an area that not only includes finance. It is an issue of presence, and it is an issue of connection, organisation and working together with the diaspora.
Culture and Heritage
We have seen above the extent to which Scottish diaspora engagement has hitherto been focused on economics and encouraging those members of the diaspora involved in business to assist with investment in the homeland. That in itself is a laudable aim and networks like GlobalScot have been extremely successful. But our previous research has indicated to us that the cultural and heritage aspects of diaspora engagement have tended to be neglected and some diaspora members have stated that they felt like 'cash cows', seen essentially as a source of finance. Typical interviewee responses included:
The network has been relatively small, given what we think the size of the diaspora is. And it's probably not been completely representative. You know, I think traditionally it's probably grown up from men in high profile roles in multinational companies, and that kind of misses a lot of people.
My understanding is that the focus has always been on the business side and on the trade side a lot more than on the arts and culture side. And it's generally been a lot more to do with bringing in trade connections, inwards or outwards ones, and encouraging people to have their companies here.
I think if you're a Scot in the US, you're engaged in the cultural aspects, because of the familial relationship and what your connection is to Scotland, but I think that the Government's focus has been on economics.
The result of this apparent comparative neglect of the cultural and heritage aspects of diaspora engagement is that policy has tended to focus on the Scottish 'movers and shakers' abroad, and the more traditional diaspora organisations have sometimes been ignored. That said, the Scottish Government currently provides direct support to diaspora organisations through the international network offices. There is an 'open door' policy for requests. The Washington office considers that they have a 'good if not excellent working relationship' with each Scottish group they know and are in frequent contact. Scottish Government representatives regularly attend events in their official capacity, especially around St Andrew's Day and Burns Night.
Lighter levels of support, such as video messages recorded by the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary and promotional materials, are provided for use at diaspora events, so organisations can show a level of official backing. For special occasions, such as a group's anniversary or milestone, messages of support can be and are provided in the form of video messages or official letters from the Cabinet Secretary to mark the occasion.
It has to be recognised that the ancestral and the lived diaspora are connected to Scotland in different ways. The ancestral group is perhaps more interested in history, in clan membership, in family histories and the Scottish traditions, but it is important not to be dismissive of this. While a television series such as Outlander may present a skewed version of Scottish history and one which we may see as not directly relevant to contemporary Scotland, nevertheless TV, films and books such as this are extremely important in relation to diaspora tourism, as we will discuss later.
We should also recognise that many of the traditional diaspora organisations like Saint Andrew Societies, while celebrating Tartan Day and Burns Nights, are involved in a significant range of other activities. Some have established scholarship programmes for younger Scots, either to allow young members of the diaspora in, for example, the US, to study in Scotland, or Scottish based students to study in the US. Others have set up lecture series, where topics discussed may range from political debate around the independence issue to Scotland's role in combating climate change. It is also clear that there is a political engagement, when members of the Scottish Parliament visit say the US or Canada. Indeed, there appeared to be a willingness to embrace contemporary issues and to seek to enrol younger Scots into these organisations – perhaps a recognition that the membership of some societies is ageing. For example,
[We're running] a series of four webinars per year on different topics and we get speakers from both Scotland and over here and that was our first one in November. I think we had over 100 participants and we will be having another one very shortly. The theme is Scotland and the sea and we'll talk about wave power and wave energy. So modern things. We're trying to not dwell on castles and battles of different clans from hundreds of years ago but not to ignore that either.
There has, in the past, perhaps been a reluctance on the part of Scotland, to promote images such as tartan as it is seen as rather backward-looking. Similarly, those living in Scotland may groan inwardly when tourists want to see the Loch Ness Monster. But we should embrace these images and acknowledge their marketability throughout the world. As interviewees stated to us:
I was recently in a meeting with [a foreign Government minister] and he said that of all the UK nations, Scotland is the one that's the most marketable and he was very surprised that the Scots didn't take more advantage of that. And it's true. If you go to a random European citizen and ask them what they think about Scotland, they'll start telling you about whisky and about Loch Ness and about tartan and about kilts, you know. The thing is that the Scottish identity is something that's quite marketable
I think that tartan – I mean, you know, there's not a country in the world wouldn't give their right arm for what we have, the whisky, the tartan, all these really strong motivators and connections. So there are some really exciting young designers, that have done things with tartan and tweed, presenting things in a contemporary as well as the traditional way. We shouldn't throw the baby out with bathwater. We've got great traditions. We should be very proud of them.
I think if we're trying to encourage Scottish diaspora to re-engage with Scotland, you need the culture, because it connects, you know, to the soul. It connects to their identity and we need to understand what they actually want to experience. Some will want to see the tartans and the Tattoo and all those things because they're all fantastic, but they're quite old fashioned and so I think what we need is a slightly more customised way of doing things, where we target our audience a bit better, doing stuff that appeals to different age groups and different demographics. So like you'll have music like a club night with musicians, then other times traditional bands for the people who want to be in full kilts and have a ceilidh.
Several interviewees mentioned modern Scottish fashions, including the work of Howie Nicholsby, in seeking to create kilts which did not necessarily use tartan and so might appeal to a younger demographic.
The importance of engaging with younger members of the diaspora is a theme which ran through a great many of our interviews and this was true of diaspora organisations who saw advantages in expanding their membership, and who recognised that they needed to reflect contemporary Scotland to a greater extent than they had hitherto. Some organisations had appointed a member of their Committee specifically to encourage a younger membership, had made greater use of social media, and had widened the scope of their activities, keenly aware that younger people would not necessarily wish to attend traditional Saint Andrew's Day dinners. It was suggested to us, for example, that Tartan Day celebrations could easily include current Scottish bands, rather than traditional ceilidh or pipe bands. The annual Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow each January, for example, features bands from Scotland, the diaspora, and the other Celtic nations and they seem very likely to appeal to a younger audience in a Tartan Day setting.
The importance of recognising the different demographics also extended to thinking about diaspora tourism. Younger members of the diaspora would not necessarily wish to explore castles and heritage sites and so it was thought essential to focus on things like outdoor experiences, such as climbing, hillwalking, mountain biking and the like, as well as music and culture, food and drink and quality places to stay. Major events such as the Edinburgh Festivals, as well as the various music festivals which take place in Scotland during the year, also provide a focus for younger diaspora members to visit. It was suggested to us that financial assistance to help diaspora performers with their air fares, to allow them to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe would also be a useful initiative. The importance of the Edinburgh Festivals was emphasised in interviews:
Well, I bailed from university into a world of rock and roll and did Fringe Festivals back-to-back, so there's actually what I call the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Diaspora as well, which is a group of people across the world who have heard of the Fringe. And then I walk into an Opera House or a theatre and within five minutes there's some connection back to my current partner, who spent a couple of very enjoyable Fringes in Scotland. It leaves its imprint on people and they suddenly want to be Scottish, or they suddenly want to move to Scotland because in that very compact period of time, they've experienced some of the best things that we have.
Scholarships aimed at young people are also important in enabling younger members of the diaspora to engage with Scotland. We have already mentioned that some diaspora organisations have introduced scholarships and we are aware of work within the GlobalScot network to facilitate some student exchanges. Wider university exchange schemes, perhaps similar to the Erasmus programme, should also be encouraged.
This perhaps leads us on to consider the cultural aspects of diaspora tourism which, we have already noted above, is extremely important to the Scottish economy. For members of the ancestral diaspora, there is often an interest in exploring family histories and places of meaning or sentimental attachment. Diaspora tourists visit their share of castles, museums and other attractions, but they are
more likely than most international tourists to have or make connections with the local economy, to stay in locally owned, smaller accommodations (or with relatives); to eat at local restaurants; and so forth. While they may not spend as much money as foreign tourists, on average, diaspora tourists' expenditures are more likely to go directly into the hands of local businesses. Thus, they generally have a different and, in some respects, more positive development impact.
In addition, diaspora tourism is not as seasonal as leisure tourism tends to be, and diaspora tourists tend not to confine themselves to the main tourist attractions. As one of our interviewees put it:
If you're visiting where your ancestry is based, you're not going round the honeypots. You're not going to do a quick visit to Loch Ness, Edinburgh and that's it. It's more spread out, which is exactly what we need for these rural communities.
During our focus groups, we also discovered a number of Gaelic learners within the diaspora. Some have attended summer schools in Scotland, or plan to do so. This involves going to Sabhal Mὸr Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, and provides another example of diaspora tourism benefiting a rural community.
Homecoming events, such as those held in 2009 and 2014 and to which we have already referred are also important in encouraging ancestral tourism. We have already noted that Ireland, having similarly held a 'Gathering' in 2013 is contemplating a repeat event in 2023.
Younger members of the diaspora are likely to want different things and, as we have suggested above, a focus on outdoor activities, culture and food and drink may have a greater appeal for this demographic. Indeed, what might be termed 'cultural tourism' is important for Scotland:
Screen is obviously an increasingly important cultural export. [It] is definitely a big draw for people because they want to see where Outlander is filmed. And we've got the likes of the old Highlander films as well and all the Avenger films and then there's Batgirl that's being filmed just now and Trainspotting and so on. So screen is a big thing. Literature is also really important. Literature is another area where Scotland's already really well regarded in the world and so one of the things that we try to do is promote Scottish artists and publishers overseas. And quite often there are hubs doing author and book events.
Finally, there were three significant suggestions made by our interviewees regarding diaspora tourism. The first is the need for greater publicity about cultural developments within Scotland itself, including cultural events but also developments of museums and galleries. One focus group participant told us:
The new museum in Dundee [the V&A] was built and open and everything before I saw anything online about it and it seems like it's a wonderful spot to go to. So I think they're not doing enough about modern Scotland.
The recent reopening of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow might be another example of the need to broadcast these developments to the diaspora.
There was also a feeling that it was difficult to receive the BBC Scotland and BBC Alba channels in the diaspora. We have not explored this in depth and some sort of streaming service subscription seems to be necessary but most focus group members referred to the BBC as their way of keeping in touch with Scotland so this is potentially an important way of disseminating messages about Scotland.
The second suggestion was the introduction of a network of Scottish Cultural Envoys. It was widely recognised that the GlobalScot network was important in economic terms and had worked extremely well, and some GlobalScots were involved in cultural activities – although that often appeared to be a result of an individual interest or commitment. But several interviewees believed that an equivalent cultural network was now necessary. Such a network would help to publicise Scottish art and culture around the globe, help Scottish artists to get their 'foot in the door' in artistic events abroad, and attract visitors to Scotland to sample Scotland's cultural offerings. This ties back to the general sense that culture and heritage had been rather overlooked in previous efforts at diaspora engagement.
Thirdly – and less positively perhaps, a number of our focus group participants expressed the view that, when they visited Scotland, they were sometimes disappointed by the quality of infrastructure, roads, and public services and sometimes places appeared rather neglected. One person felt that it just needed 'someone to trim it all up a bit'. There was therefore a concern about the image that Scotland itself was promoting to its tourists.
The Social Aspects
Much of the social activity within the diaspora is related to issues of culture and heritage, as we have discussed above. But it is important to note the extensive social networks which exist within the diaspora so that organisations and individuals are connected to each other, without necessarily being directly connected to Scotland itself. The Scottish Government, however, can make use of these networks as part of its diaspora engagement.
There are, for example, representative bodies covering clans and Scottish societies in North America – the Clans and Scottish Societies of Canada (CASSOC), and the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations (COSCA) in the US. Within Scotland itself, the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs (SCSC) has significant engagement with clans overseas. Similarly, although there are university alumni associations dotted across the world, they run social events for their members abroad and have regular get-togethers as well as engaging directly with their respective universities.
There may be lessons here from Flanders, where its network of volunteer 'ambassadors' keeps in touch with Flemish people abroad and organises various social events and celebrations, while maintaining contact with VIW in Brussels. It may be that the Scottish Government might assist the organic development of social connections within the diaspora – although the impetus would come from within the diaspora and not directly from Scotland.
Some organisations have been very effective about ensuring that their events also resonate with the wider population. An example is Hogmanay, which, while recognised as being a celebration with a particular Scottish resonance, is nevertheless celebrated across the world. One diaspora organisation took the decision to organise a Hogmanay celebration which would be open to all, family orientated, and was not to be seen as specifically Scottish. Between 7000 and 8000 people generally attend, so the event illustrates how Scottish diaspora organisations can become significant within wider social communities and also illustrates how people wish to engage with a typically 'Scottish' event. Some interviewees suggested that celebrations such as Burns Night could also be made attractive to wider audiences through involving modern writers and musicians. In this way, these events will not necessarily be seen as purely and traditionally Scottish but will have a wider social significance.
The main lesson in regard to social activities is perhaps to note firstly the importance of independent diaspora social activity within the diaspora, but also the opportunity for the Scottish Government to make use of these social networks when engaging with Scots abroad.
The Alumni Diaspora
We have referred earlier to the importance of engaging younger members of the diaspora. Another group which has tended perhaps to be under-represented in discussions about diaspora engagement is the alumni diaspora – graduates of Scottish universities who have left Scotland to live and / or work abroad. Universities themselves have alumni offices and so there is a regular engagement with graduates, but this engagement is essentially university-specific and not necessarily aligned with the aims of the Scottish Government. Much of it is focused on fund-raising and one interviewee was critical of the focus on what they called 'moneymaking'.
I guess the university focus is really on building relationships between graduates and with us so that we all have a community focus. A lot of our work is in support of fundraising primarily and so some of it supports student recruitment activity or reputation management activity. But I'd say primarily where we invest funding in building alumni programmes internationally, it's where those areas align with our fundraising strategy. And I think there's also a lot of pride there. I think people genuinely want to know how the university is doing and they want the good news stories that we're able to share … There's certainly an interest in connecting with other alumni. But I would say really at the heart of those programmes is the interest in maintaining a relationship with the university.
As we note above, in discussing the social aspects of the diaspora, local alumni groups organise events for graduates in their area, independent of the university. Indeed, there was sometimes a sense that the university was not doing enough:
My experience is that the alumni have a very strong affinity but more by good luck than good planning on the part of the university. I'm still in very regular contact with my classmates, most of whom are spread out through Europe, a few Americans and a few Asians as well. We have arranged to get together ourselves and have everyone meet in Brussels or wherever. But there's been no drive on the part of the university to encourage it in any way.
Alumni offices were able to instance events which they had held abroad and which had been well attended. These included Burns Suppers, whisky tastings and Tartan Day events. And, in some instances, universities are offered places at Scottish Government events abroad and contacts are then made with alumni groups locally, who may wish to attend. But class reunions of the kind referred to above tended to be held at the university itself.
That said, there was some criticism that Scottish universities did significantly less than, for example, North American universities in relation to their alumni.
I would say that the universities need to really do a better job. I'll say it because I went to university in the US and I'm the President of my class. And they make sure they're in touch with you. If it's alumni weekend, they want you to go. There's always somebody keeping you together. So I would say the universities need to understand the importance of their role in doing this and having the resources to keep up with it.
Some university graduates are members of the GlobalScot network or may attend GlobalScot events. But alumni offices suggested that the aims of such events were not always clear. There was an obvious tension between the alumni offices whose interests are very university-specific and solely related to their graduates, and the Scottish Government, which seeks a much broader diaspora engagement. Alumni offices were unhappy about short lead-in times and a lack of notice of Government events abroad. They would ideally like clearer information on event schedules, on the aims of events, and more discussion on their location. Scottish alumni may not necessarily be living in areas which the Scottish Government see as their key markets, for example. Alumni offices were also very protective of their contacts (particularly because of GDPR concerns) and unwilling to share information with the Government.
One important aspect of the alumni diaspora, and one to which offices referred, is that fact that many university alumni are not Scots but international students. The obvious example is perhaps China and we have seen increased numbers of Chinese students at Scottish universities, 6000 currently at Glasgow alone. In the last year, The Times reports that students from China paid a combined £245 million in university fees at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt Universities, representing 31% of their total fee income. Importantly, Chinese graduates from Scottish universities have become a significant affinity diaspora, retaining a strong affinity with the country, as well as with their university.
We often find that those alumni – sometimes just the people who have spent a year here, or a semester – are the ones with the strongest affinity. They have so many special memories and such strong feelings about their time here … international students that have been here and then gone back home may be the ones that are more enthusiastic about Scottish themed events.
Finally, alumni offices stated that they were sometimes uncertain about Scottish Government points of contact and believed that a single point was preferable. We return to this later.
As we have noted above, there is a strong feeling within the diaspora that an effective diaspora strategy must let the diaspora have as much a leadership role as the homeland. This is illustrated in our case studies above, where partnership between the diaspora and the homeland is considered the norm, because in many respects the diaspora is seen as part of the homeland. Therefore, regular consultations, engagements, and group meetings take place. Ireland presents a clear consideration here; 'we have had on occasion a thing called the Global Ireland Civic Forum, which is when we bring back leaders of the Irish partner organisations, the diaspora to Dublin for basically a thinking and recommendations meeting'.
It was felt that Scotland, not just the Scottish Government but even organisations such as Scottish universities, were not appreciating the need for seeing the diaspora as a part of Scotland to be brought in and connected with. This feeling was shared across demographic areas, groups and individuals within the Scottish diaspora with argument such as:
There's no drive on the part of the university or any other initiative to suggest that support or encourage it in any way… It's somewhat mind boggling because there's a considerable body of resources there that can be, you know, brought to bear in any number of ways for organisations, and it's a bit of a mystery to me.
Part of the strength of the connection that many individuals stressed about their sense of belonging to Scottish diaspora, and to Scotland, was the positive manner in which Scotland was viewed around the world. 'Does the Scottish Government, and Scots, and Scotland itself, see itself as fresh, as new, as innovative? Because that's what it is to me'. Again, climate change and reputation were linked together, 'Scotland is considered quite forward looking when it comes to environment and climate change policies. So that's something that's also marketable about Scotland' and another individual stated, 'I really believe that Scotland is ahead … in terms of new sources, tapping into new sources of energy'.
The emphasis was on the very positive image of Scotland that existed across the world and within specific regions. The speech by former MEP Alan Smyth asking Europe to 'leave a light on for Scotland' was also highlighted, as was not voting for Brexit, by several interviewees. The recognition of Scotland as a warm, welcoming, and above all, inclusive society was brought up in many interviews and all focus groups. This stands in contrast to the problems highlighted above, when discussing the history of elements of the diaspora in terms of its imperial and colonial past, and serves as a counterpoint to be employed in such discussion.
There was also considerable enthusiasm from individuals across the diaspora for an ability to migrate to Scotland. Many of these were from the ancestral diaspora, with no immediate right of residency, although short term study had often been an aspect of previous visits and engagement with Scotland.
I think it's possible for a modern Scotland to be sustainable and I want to be a part of that because I think that we can grow. I think we can come home and I think that we should. Because Scotland deserves that and I think we deserve that'.
Obviously, it is appreciated that immigration is a reserved matter outwith the competency of the Scottish Parliament. However, it should be recognised that there are individuals within the diaspora, and not only the lived aspect of the diaspora, who want to have an 'easier way to immigrate if we can show that we have those connections, because most of us can. It would just make it easier to come home and work, and prove that we want to be there'.
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