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.

7. Discussion and Conclusions

During the course of our work, we have identified a significant number of challenges for Scotland and the Scottish Government.

The first one relates to diaspora definition, identity and belonging, and coming to terms with the past. The diaspora needs to be recognised in its widest possible form. This not only includes the various groups such as the ancestral, lived, affinity and alumni diasporas and so on, but also its geographical spread.

It was noted that when speaking of the diaspora, there was often a tendency to focus on specific areas of the world, such as North America, Australasia and Europe. It is thus important to note the existence of significant elements of the diaspora outwith these areas. This is not just an issue for the ancestral diaspora, which exists in many other areas of the world, such as the Caribbean, Central, and South America, Asia and the Middle East. The diaspora in the Caribbean, for example, which is mainly black or mixed-race and is made up of the descendants of Scottish slave and plantation owners has generally been ignored but it too should be recognised. This requires us to deal with our past as a nation and recognise the historical hurt suffered by these communities. Engaging with this diaspora will require sensitivity – and current approaches will not necessarily be appropriate – but it should be done.

While many individuals within these areas are lived diaspora, there are also significant numbers of ancestral diaspora in key locations, and functioning organisations that would serve to connect to them, and with the homeland, and also significant numbers of alumni diaspora, particularly in countries like China and India, given the shift in HE recruitment practices in recent years.

Even in traditionally engaged areas such as North America, diaspora in countries such as Mexico often felt they were overlooked due to their proximity to the United States. As one active member of the alumni diaspora noted, he had hosted 'a party with about 50 people from the Mexican metropolitan area of Mexico' with minimal resources, but that it could also serve as a 'connection with the prospective student' for any Scottish university looking to recruit. Thus, non-traditional areas require consideration. To illustrate this, engaging with alumni in several areas was unsuccessful due to limitations of time, contacts and resources. This potentially illustrates the need for special attention to an area where many alumni diaspora to exist.[70]

Secondly, we need to embrace all aspects of Scottishness and recognise the importance of tartan, whisky, Burns Nights and Saint Andrew's Days, even if we feel that it is not representative of contemporary Scotland. As highlighted above, there have been challenging instances, which we have witnessed, and similar events have been confirmed by interviewees. These events have involved dismissive attitudes and comments from Scottish Government and Scottish organisation representatives in relation to tartanry and heritage issues, which remain key to significant elements of the diaspora.

We should be able to embrace both the traditional and the contemporary; our tourist industry relies on both and diaspora engagement needs to respect the differing interests that exist within the different elements of the diaspora. Irish interviewees joked that they some of their diaspora engagement had to deal with shamrocks and leprechauns and so Scotland needs to do something similar.

However, this brings us to the issues of diversity and inclusion among the Scottish Diaspora. We have noted above the issue of expanding the understanding and acceptance of who is part of the Scottish Diaspora and the various sub-units, such as Lived, Ancestral, Affinity and Alumni, which comprise the contemporary Diaspora. Strategic consideration around this issue was also raised by numerous individuals and organisations during our research. This related to a number of distinct aspects of inclusion, such as LGBTQI, ethnicity, race, youth, and geographic location.

As stated above, there is also a need to deal with elements of tradition and history within the diaspora. There are issues of inclusion and diversity problems with some diaspora organisations. Some longstanding organisations have constitutions that make them men only, 'you have Saint Andrew Societies that don't allow women to join'. Other organisations have office holders that fail to reflect the values of contemporary Scotland and the wider Scottish diaspora. As one individual noted 'a part of this is like the old dogs being resistant to some of the more 'woke' principles' and this illustrates an uneven consideration of the values of the Scottish diaspora.

Other groups have witnessed issues of racism and sexism, that have impacted upon membership. It is felt that these may not be isolated incidents as, while the diaspora is broadly inclusive and many organisations are seen as welcoming, 'there is a culture and there are trends in that subculture' and another individual indicated that this has caused them to shift their activity and memberships where possible to avoid such incidents among groups: 'I've stepped away from [an organisation] due to overt racism, sexism and somewhat hostile environments in those groups'.

Issues that could impact upon the perception of the history of, and historical figures within, the Scottish diaspora were also mentioned by several individuals and groups. One specific element was a recognition of the need to accept, understand and deal with actions of the historical diaspora, and their connections with slavery and other colonial events.

There's a lot of people … in the US and the Caribbean that I think are not getting tapped at all, because Scotland's afraid to talk about its history with slavery and the slave trade. And I'm not saying it's on purpose, it's just people are kind of light touch about it… they're losing out on people.

This individual felt that issues of race and history were negatively impacting people from having the opportunity to engage with Scotland and be part of the Scottish diaspora. They reported that they had been pro-active in seeking to connect to the GlobalScot organisation, but had they not, then they would have been 'missed'. They feel that others are thus being missed, and opportunities to engage individuals and groups within many areas are also being missed.

Similar issues were raised by individuals and groups within North America and the difficulties that sometimes arose due to past activities. It was reported that 'to some degree, we're being made to feel embarrassed about our culture because of certain Canadians that came here like 200 years ago and did things that weren't right'. The role of the Scottish Government in aiding the diaspora in this area was specifically highlighted: 'I don't quite know how to combat that. And if the Scottish Government was able to do something to combat that, to change those, you know some type of communications or something of that nature'.

Third, diaspora engagement requires resources and there is no doubt that the Irish are well ahead of Scotland in terms of the money committed in this area. But Scottish diaspora organisations also have resources which can be made available where they are needed. A common complaint among our interviewees was an uncertainty as to what Scotland actually wanted from its diaspora. We do not necessarily wish to see the diaspora as 'cash cows' as we have already explained, and we need a more cultural focus in future policy. But we need to be clear as to why we wish to engage with our diaspora, what we expect from them and what we can offer back to them. As one interviewee put it, 'what is the ask'?

Fourthly, there are the issues around coordination within the Diaspora and clear and firm ongoing links to the homeland. There was a firm reflection within the diaspora, and within individuals working with the diaspora that there needed to be a much greater considered strategy, with a clear vision of the role of diaspora organisations within that strategy. There were numerous comments that reflected the idea that groups within the diaspora, and groups dealing with the diaspora, either abroad or in the homeland, needed to have the space and resources to make connections in their way and with their wished focus. Perhaps none summed this up better than the ethos 'let the diaspora lead' and this has been the mantra of this nation's approach to diaspora engagement for some time.

That'll be a partnership. It can't be us trying to mould the diaspora as we want them to be. It's got to be a recognition of what the real connections are… you're not the horse pulling the cart. They're the horse pulling their own cart and you help and build the road. You're making a mistake if you're trying to be the horse.

This was certainly not an isolated opinion. Discussion with members of the GlobalScot organisation, which in itself is recognised (and copied) as a successful aspect of diaspora engagement, indicated very strong feelings about the need for organisational links and communication. It was felt that 'there needs to be greater coordination among the various groups' around the numerous activities to ensure lessening of duplication where possible, but also strengthening of activity and that if there were links that could 'allow for a sharing of best practices', this would greatly assist diaspora engagement. It was firmly recognised, and accepted, that there are clearly limits to what the diaspora can do for itself. Therefore, some formal process or organisation that would assist coordination and aid in information sharing would strengthen the diaspora, and homeland links with, and within, the diaspora.

It was noted that communications were fairly effective in areas where Scottish agencies worked with the diaspora, both groups and individuals, but that there needs to be greater cognisance around timing of communications and events and the other duties of individuals within diaspora organisations and associations. As one GlobalScot noted, 'they're very good at sending out, you know, bulletins and what they're doing… sometimes it's hard when you're working full time… if it's not there and right in front of you'.

Fifthly, diaspora members were unclear about where responsibility for diaspora affairs sit within the Scottish Government infrastructure. A Google search for diaspora in Ireland leads directly to the Global Irish page of the Department of Foreign Affairs. An equivalent search for Scotland leads to Scottish Government publications and documents. So, it would not be clear to members of the diaspora where they should engage, let alone who they should contact. We understand that responsibility sits within the International Division of the Scottish Government, under a single Director for External Affairs. We would suggest that there is a need for an improved web presence, so that there is an obvious 'gateway' for people seeking information about Scotland and Scottish Government policy, similar to that which exists in Ireland. This links to the discussions above about a clear digital presence and identity for diaspora engagement.

Finally, our discussions with GlobalScots highlighted the difficulties of 'threading the needle' between the Scottish and UK Governments, especially in regard to trade and investment. The delicacies of the situation were firmly appreciated by all, as 'the question of Scotland as a nation and its role within the UK apparatus is sometimes tricky'. However, as was pointed out, there is a role for UK level officials and officers in engagement with the diaspora.

You have say, a diaspora event, a Burns Night or Tartan Week… To me it's a missed opportunity for the UK ambassador here not to engage directly with those activities… Just being a nation of the UK, as the President of the United States would embrace an important event for a state… the UK doesn't do very well in recognising these important events.

In conclusion, we have highlighted several areas for discussion and consideration. We now proceed to making recommendations.



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