Scottish connections (diaspora) work: literature review

Reports on findings from a literature review looking at international examples of engagement activities, initiatives and strategies in relation to various diasporic communities.

5. Conclusion

How Scotland compares internationally

199. This section of the report addresses the questions: How doesScotland’s diaspora engagement compare to other countries and what more can be done over the next 5 years? Having compared the strategies and relative effectiveness of a sample of other countries, we have an overview of current global good practice and an idea of what works, and, to some extent, what does not.

200. Our assessment of effectiveness needs to be caveated, however. A risk we identified, that there would be insufficient data on diaspora engagement to enable rigorous comparative evaluation to be made, turned out to be justified. Countries (with a few exceptions) do not have fully developed policies and strategies for diaspora engagement and, even where they do have strategies, they do not embed evaluation in their activities. Therefore, it is hard to assess “what works”, even in a qualitative way, without further research.

201. We can, however, by comparing what countries say publicly, and where possible by drawing on academic assessments, Parliamentary reports, budget statements and other grey material, come to an overview of countries’:

  • Policy drivers: what inspires countries to engage with their diasporas.
  • Means of engagement: how countries engage.
  • Who engages: the key actors in diaspora engagement in each country.
  • Issues: facing countries engaged in diaspora engagement, and
  • Specific initiatives: the activities or programmes which countries attach value to over time. This can function as a proxy measure for effectiveness.

202. With this overview, we mapped the current policies, strategies, institutions, initiatives, and engagement strategies employed by Scotland against other countries’ activities.

203. Scotland is already active in diaspora engagement:

  • Scotland has an external network of eight international offices.[105] Their role is to promote Scottish interests internationally and strengthen Scotland’s relationships with countries and continents. The offices engage with a wide range of stakeholders in each location in many ways including Ministerial engagement, direct communications, events, projects, regular newsletters and via social media activity.
  • Scottish Development International (SDI) is Scotland’s trade and foreign direct investment agency. With a network of over 30 offices across the world SDI’s aim is to encourage and support more overseas businesses to set up a location here, invest in Scottish businesses or buy high quality Scottish products and services.
  • Led and managed by SDI, GlobalScot is a worldwide network of business professionals, entrepreneurs, business leaders and community figureheads, who have a connection to Scotland and work on a voluntary basis to help the wider Scottish business community thrive internationally by providing market intelligence, connections and mentorship. They also act as advisors and advocates in promoting Scotland as a place to live, work, invest and study.
  • Brand Scotland / The Brand Scotland collaboration targets international audiences to promote its vision for Scotland to be recognised as a leading global citizen and a highly desirable country in which to live, work, study, visit and do business. is the international-facing online platform for Brand Scotland activity, along with a range of social media channels. The website contains a broad range of information and features and links online visitors to a range of partner information and websites. A toolkit is available from the website; it is free to sign up to for anyone interested in promoting Scotland and using assets in their own communications and events. It is planned to further develop this toolkit with the Scottish diaspora in mind with the assets developed on an annual basis for Scotland’s Winter Festivals.
  • Culture: Scotland’s Winter Festivals (SWF) was established in 2010 as a legacy of Homecoming 2009. SWF is primarily an events and marketing/PR programme which aims to mobilise the people of Scotland (and those with an affinity to Scotland) to join in the St Andrew’s Day, Hogmanay and Burns Night celebrations.
  • Higher Education: Scotland’s higher education institutions are highly globalised, and have excellent relationships with alumni worldwide. A new strategy for international education, to promote Scotland’s education offer globally, increase the number of international students and maintain links with the EU, is in the early stages of development.

204. Scotland however, similarly to most other countries, currently lacks an over-arching strategy for diaspora engagement that contributes to its wider vision for international engagement. There is no clearly articulated vision for what Scotland wants to achieve through diaspora engagement and no dedicated institutional framework. The Programme for Government however commits the Scottish Government to “...expand on our work with Scottish diaspora networks across the world.” This research confirms that Scotland has a solid base from which to expand, but that there are lessons to be learned from others’ experience.

205. Countries and regions are increasingly interested in developing policies and strategies for diaspora engagement. This is principally driven by concerns about the economic impact of demographic change, and is particularly evident where they have ageing populations, skills shortages, and good education systems that equip globally mobile workers to work overseas. Australia, Denmark, Ireland, and New Zealand fit that pattern, which also applies to Scotland – traditionally a net exporter of educated, skilled, workers. Policy responses tend to focus on measures to encourage diasporas to return home. This requires sustained effort over years, and a range of measures, some of which Scotland has competence in, but some of which are the responsibility of the UK Government.

206. There are also varying views of who falls within the scope of diaspora engagement. Temporary migrants,[106] including some students and alumni, are an increasing focus, reflecting increased labour mobility. This is true for the countries mentioned above, but also for sub-states like Québec, which loses large numbers of skilled workers each year to other parts of Canada. Internal migration is, of course, not impacted by right to residency, right to work or other constraints. This issue too is highly relevant to Scotland and represents a major opportunity.

207. Some countries take a broad view of diaspora engagement. Others are very focused, either on issues, or on specific groups. Where they are focused, they prioritise:

  • Economic and business agendas (Australia, Denmark, Flanders, New Zealand, Québec).
  • Specific target groups such as alumni (Australia).
  • Support for the expatriate community in terms of citizenship and education (France).
  • Soft power (influence) through education and culture (China, France).
  • The creation of specific institutions with clear remits (Japan).

208. Where they take a broad approach, this could reflect the salience of the diaspora population in the history and national narrative of the home country, and perhaps its size vis-à-vis the population of the home country. The best example is Ireland.

209. Scotland can learn from any of these approaches, but it is hard to generalise as to what the better approach, broad or narrow should be. That would depend on what Scotland wants to achieve, and how it sees itself in the world.

210. Scotland can, however, undoubtedly benefit from the experience other countries have of how to develop a sustainable diaspora engagement policy and strategy. The policy development process itself, where it is effective, is characterised by multi-stakeholder engagement and consultation, both within the home country and with diaspora populations. This leads to the extensive involvement of civil society in diaspora engagement, reflecting that those who wish to engage with them are mostly non-state actors with a range of agendas and interests which can be in competition for scarce resources. It is worth noting that some countries’ diaspora engagement strategies are led by non-state actors with varying levels of Government facilitation and support (Denmark, USA).

211. Policy must be communicated effectively. At the highest level, this leads to careful attention being paid to the national brand architecture, how it embodies values and serves a positive national reputation. This matters where countries are highly aware of the need to compete for attention (Australia, Québec), have to overcome history (Japan), where national values have been the subject of attention domestically (Denmark), or where national identity is already lodged in the popular global mind in a way which is hard to shift (arguably, Scotland).

212. At the level of delivery, there is a spectrum of three main levels of “meaningful engagement”. These range from countries that have existing long-term rationales, policies, institutions, budgets, and strategies for engaging with their diasporas (France, China) to those that have no clear approach, or even ignore them (USA):

  • Level 1: The most “meaningful engagement” happens where the home country provides services and entitlements to the whole diaspora through Embassies, Consulates, a range of other official channels, and supports and enables civil society initiatives. The diaspora in that case is actively involved with the home country even to the extent of exercising citizenship and political rights (France, Ireland). Table 4 suggests that Scotland currently has to work at this level within the institutional framework of the UK. There is scope to do so through cooperation with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and other UK international organisations, and Scotland can engage with parts of its diaspora through this route, taking advantage of existing well-known and valued Scottish events such as St Andrew’s Day, Hogmanay, and Burns Suppers (as it already does), and exploring the potential to extend them to connect with less traditional diaspora networks, particularly younger members of the diaspora including alumni.
Table 4: Level 1 diaspora engagement
Level 1 Citizenship rights and services to the whole diaspora who enjoy legal entitlements (and in the case of France, political rights and representation). Existing national policy and strategy framework, resources, and initiatives. Support through state institutions (Embassies, Consulates), and a range of other national public agencies with an overseas presence.*
Australia x x
Belgium (Flanders)
Canada (Federal) x x
Canada (Québec)
China x x x
Denmark x x
France x x x
Ireland x x x
Japan x x x
New Zealand x x
USA x x

*Sub-states in the sample vary in their relationship to their national governments, but they are all reliant on them for the provision of diaspora services relating to citizenship, rights, entitlements, including emergency services.

  • Level 2: At the next level, countries engage meaningfully by providing support to a section of the diaspora. This is most often to businesses, or to groups of diaspora in which the home country has a direct economic interest, such as diaspora members it wants to return to fill skills gaps (Denmark, New Zealand), or where there are economic interests (inward investment, export support) that are served by existing institutions. Table 5 shows that Scotland already operates at this level as do the other sub-states and some countries.
Table 5: Level 2 diaspora engagement
Level 2 Support to a section of the diaspora, most often to businesses, or a focus on engagement with specific groups for specific reasons. Policy and strategy framework minimal or under development. Support through sub-state international offices, arm’s length bodies, state-funded and supported partnerships. Supports and enables civil society initiatives.
Australia x x
Belgium (Flanders) x x x
Canada (Federal)
Canada (Québec) x x x
China x
Denmark x x x
France x
Japan x
New Zealand x
Scotland x x x
  • Level 3: At this level, diaspora engagement is more tenuous in that it is less clearly defined in policy and strategy, there is no clear set of aims, there is a lack of institutions and resources, it is often driven by civil society and by notions of cultural affinity, rather than by Government and policy (Canada, USA). Table 6 (below) shows that Scotland operates at this level as it currently lacks a clear policy, though it does have specific diaspora facing institutions and networks such as GlobalScot (Scotland’s network for international business) with resources and international offices. This is also true of some major countries.
Table 6: Level 3 diaspora engagement
Level 3 Currently lacking a policy framework for diaspora engagement. Often driven by civil society. There is a lack of institutions and/or resources.
Australia x
Belgium (Flanders)
Canada (Federal) x
Canada (Québec) x x
Denmark x x
New Zealand x
USA x x
Scotland x x

213. The question of what the right level of diaspora engagement within existing competencies is, can and should be addressed by Scotland as it considers diaspora engagement in the context of its wider international aims.



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