The Scottish Diaspora and Diaspora Strategy: Insights and Lessons from Ireland

In both Scotland and Ireland sustained attention is now being given to the potential benefits which might flow from renewing and refreshing relationships with overseas diasporic populations. The objective of the report is to contribute to the development of such thinking by identifying and reflecting upon Scotland's approach to its diaspora relative to its Irish counterpart.


1.1 Speaking at Trinity College Dublin on February 13 th 2008, Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, called for Scottish policy makers to study and extract lessons from the remarkable growth of the Irish economy from 1993. The purpose of this report is to provide a comparative study of one area of public policy which hitherto has attracted much speculation but little serious analysis; that of diaspora and diaspora strategy.

1.2. In both Scotland and Ireland sustained attention is now being given to the potential benefits which might flow from renewing and refreshing relationships with overseas diasporic populations. This has manifested itself in a raft of diaspora related policy initiatives. In neither case, however, is a formal and systematic diaspora engagement yet in place. The objective of the report is to contribute to the development of such a strategy by identifying and reflecting upon Scotland's approach to its diaspora relative to its Irish counterpart .

1.3 The report uses the term 'strategy' in a loose way to refer to firstly the securing of an overview of the range of actual and potential public, private, and voluntary ties between diasporic groups and Scotland, and secondly the development of a preferred orientation as to how these ties might best be developed. 'Strategy' in this context need not imply, and may not be best served by, a coherent and formalised top down, bureaucratically regulated, and managerialist, blueprint.

1.4 This project did not seek to evaluate any specific aspect of Scottish or Irish diaspora policy and we have undertaken no such task. Rather, we offer a series of observations which are informed by international comparisons, conversations with key actors from both the Scottish and Irish Governments, and an analysis of official documents and policy statements.

1.5 It is clear that a whole number of initiatives already underway will play an important role in Scotland's diaspora engagement. Scotland has already made significant progress in connecting with its diaspora and has been cited by the World Bank as an exemplar of best practice in the area of business networks. Current initiatives include but are not limited to:

Global Scot - a business network connecting highly skilled Scots around the world.

Global Friends of Scotland - a social and community network linking overseas Scots.

Homecoming 2009 - a flagship campaign seeking to encourage tourist visits and perhaps a longer term relationship between Scotland and its diaspora.

Tartan Day and Scotland Week - An official day set aside in the United States (and other countries) to celebrate the heritage and legacy of Scottish emigrants; Scotland Week is held alongside this to promote links with Scotland.

The central web portal - An official gateway to Scotland serving as a one stop shop for a variety of user groups.

Creative Scotland - an organisation that once established will be dedicated to promoting Scottish culture and arts both at home and abroad.

Fresh Talent Initiative and Talent Scotland - Agencies such as the Relocation Advisory Service established to promote skilled migration, including return migration, to Scotland. website and ScotlandsPeople Resources - The former a Visit Scotland tourist promotion web site, the latter a government backed partnership between the General Register Office for Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland and The Court of the Lord Lyon, including a website and the new Scotland's People Centre in Edinburgh, which is a resource for ancestral visitors seeking genealogical research materials.

The Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh University - A new research centre serving as a focal point for research on the Scottish diaspora.

1.6 The intention of the report is to concentrate minds around five critical questions which if addressed could go some way to providing a clearer shape to Scotland's approach to its diaspora.

1.7 Which populations constitute the Scottish diaspora and should be included as part of a targeted diaspora strategy?

For pragmatic and political reasons there is an urgent need to define and delineate the range of constituencies which might constitute the Scottish diaspora. There is merit in widening the definition of diaspora to include as many constituencies who might be prepared to play for 'Team Scotland' as possible. This widening might include expatriates irrespective of the grounds for their departure, later day descendants with a sense of heritage, mobile Scots and business travellers leading a transnational existence, and other nationalities both resident in Scotland and elsewhere with an affinity towards the country.

1.8 What government structures and programmes are best suited to the establishment of new relations with diasporic populations?

The Irish approach to its diaspora is relatively successful, particularly with respect to business, because it is light and flexible in structure, gives ownership and freedom to its members, and is developmental without being muscular. The state's role is to nurture and incubate, not manage and over-determine. Scotland, in contrast, has pursued a strategy that is more muscular, state-centric and centrally managed. If it is true to say that the Scottish diaspora is less well articulated and organised, then there might be good reason for this. The Scottish Government might usefully reflect on the position and role of the state in managing diaspora initiatives, conduct research into already existing diaspora networks, and consider complimenting existing state run schemes by seeding, serving as midwife, and performing a husbandary role for wider social and economic networks amongst the Scottish diaspora. In addition, public administration of diaspora schemes should consider creating a specific set of measurable deliverables suitable to the task and timeframe at hand.

1.9 How are diaspora organized and how does their underlying structure and logic predispose them to engage in different ways with the home nation?

The Scottish diaspora is almost as expansive and large as the Irish diaspora and is a huge and relatively untapped resource for Scotland. Nevertheless, as a consequence of the historical formation of the diaspora, and in particular the voluntary nature of much of the emigration and speed of assimilation into the new communities, it is widely believed that it is not as well organized or culturally ready to be engaged. Fundamental to the building of a Scottish diaspora strategy must be a renewed interest in fortifying and stimulating Scottish-mindedness in the diaspora. It is clear that a critical mass of high profile culture building projects is now being constructed and these will surely make a significant contribution to the building of the diaspora.

1.10 What social, economic, and demographic objectives ought to underpin the engagement with diasporic populations?

Scotland has different social, cultural, and economic needs from Ireland and has a different set of rationales for engaging with its diaspora. In Ireland, the use of the income from the Celtic Tiger period to support vulnerable groups overseas, the building of business networks to lubricate the globalization of Irish firms
and the localization of Trans National Companies ( TNCs) in Ireland, and the preservation of an elevated sense of diasporic patriotism at a time of change are critical objectives. Return migration to meet population growth targets, the establishment of global economic networks to broker the globalization of Scottish firms and the localization of TNCs in Scotland, as well as the cultural nurturing of a comparatively weaker Scottish diaspora are all key and pressing priorities for Scotland.

1.11 What concrete policies and interventions are current being introduced and what innovations merit closer scrutiny?

Scottish policy makers should look in particular at the possibilities of reworking the following Irish schemes into a Scottish diaspora strategy.

Irish Abroad Unit
Emigrant Advice Network
Enterprise Ireland's approach to building business and social networks
Emigrant News Online
Ireland Funds

They should also consider building a larger version of Scottish Networks International and helping to nurture (though not own and run) ventures such as Scots in London network.

1.12 Ireland should in turn study and draw lessons from :

Scottish Network International
Fresh Talent Initiative which includes the Relocation Advisory Service
Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies Web portal
Homecoming Scotland 2009 campaign

1.13 Clearly, the current global economic downturn will have ramifications for diaspora policy, affecting remittance transfers, philanthropy, the extension of welfare entitlements, migration patterns, tourist flows, and the functioning of economic networks. Nevertheless there is an argument to be made that it is precisely in this context that diaspora groups have an even greater role to play in promoting national social, cultural, and economic development.

1.14 Scotland and Ireland have much to learn from each other with regards to how they conceive and develop their relationship with their respective diasporas. The Scottish diaspora represents a huge potential resource for Scotland, and Scotland offers the diaspora many benefits; the key is to develop a strong partnership between both which is mutually beneficial. Our view is that any strategy for Scotland should:

  • seek to focus on the cultural as well as the economic;
  • be light in touch and flexible where appropriate rather than heavily structured and over-determined;
  • be formulated to work over the long term;
  • have an open view of who constitutes the diaspora and the value of an affinity diaspora;
  • recognize that the intangible benefits of a strategy will be as important as tangible ones;
  • understand that the relationship with the diaspora has to be reciprocal for it to be sustainable.
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