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.


2.1 For some time, commentators from each of the main political parties in Scotland have deliberated over the lessons which might be learned from the remarkable growth of the Irish economy from 1993 1. Attention has been given to areas of commonality and difference and debate has centered on the extent to which Irish economic policy might provide pointers for Scottish economy policy. Speaking at Trinity College Dublin on February 13 th 2008, Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, reasserted the significance of the Irish comparison and pointed to the continuing inspiration Ireland provides when envisioning Scotland's future:

2.2 "As a nation, Scotland must look outwards and upwards. We must measure ourselves against those around us - and those who have the ambition to achieve. Scotland looks out to an Arc of Prosperity around us. Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark. All small independent nations. All stable, secure and prosperous. Of all these nations, no example is more impressive and inspiring than Ireland. And none is more relevant to the decisions that Scotland faces today. So I have come to Dublin to set out our aspirations for Scotland's future - how we will create a Celtic Lion economy to match the Celtic Tiger on this side of the Irish Sea….The rewards to a nation that is willing to face up to its position, set its ambition, and pursue it resolutely - these rewards could scarcely be greater. The story of Ireland - one of the greatest success stories of the last century, and of this century - is a testament to what the people of Scotland can achieve.'

2.3 Given that both countries have different demographic, cultural, constitutional, political, social, economic, and institutional histories, it is clear that what happened in Ireland is not transferable to Scotland, at least in any straightforward manner. Discussion around 'best practice' and 'policy transfer' needs to be undergirded by a careful analysis of the specificities of the Scottish and Irish economies, in areas such as demographic trends, labour market intervention, enterprise and innovation, foreign direct investment, infrastructure and utilities. 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.

2.4 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 strategy yet in place. This perhaps is fortunate as our findings suggest that the imposition of an overarching, rigid and highly formalised diaspora strategy or framework may prove largely ineffective over the long term; indeed one of our conclusions is to suggest that a lightness of touch will be a key element in fostering successful relationships between nations and their diaspora. Alan Gamlen 2 refers to this approach as 'tactics without strategy'. As such, there is scope for the Scottish Government to adopt a more strategic orientation towards the Scottish diaspora without this orientation being overly-determined. The objective of the report is to contribute to the development of such a strategic orientation by identifying and reflecting upon Scotland's approach to its diaspora relative to its Irish counterpart 3.

2.5 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. These questions are:

  • Which populations might fall under the diaspora label and as such be included as part of a targeted diaspora strategy?
  • What government structures and programmes are best suited to the establishment of new relations with diasporic populations?
  • How are diaspora organized and how does their underlying structure and logic predispose them to engage in different ways with the home nation?
  • What social, economic, and demographic objectives ought to underpin the extensions of relations with diasporic populations?
  • What concrete policies and interventions are currently being introduced and what innovations merit closer scrutiny?

2.6 Our approach has been to chart current thinking and practice in Scotland in regard to each question whilst at the same time drawing parallels from the Irish experience and enquiring into the relevance of the Irish case for Scotland.

2.7 It is important to be clear from the outset that our aim is to stimulate thinking and debate about the ways in which Scotland might most productively mobilize and engage its diaspora in future. Our 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 ( Appendix 1), and an analysis of official documents and policy statements, but which are not empirically grounded through a rigorous root and branch evaluation of particular schemes. This report then is designed primarily as a thought piece or catalyst for further roundtable discussion and we conclude by proposing a series of points of debate which may prove fruitful in advancing and focusing policy formulation.

2.8 The report is structured around six main sections. In the first section the bases and terms of reference of the comparative approach are further clarified. Sections 2 to 6 then work systematically through each question in turn, vis-à-vis:

  • the definition of diaspora and identification of specific diasporic populations for inclusion in any strategy;
  • the approaches which are best suited to engaging diasporic populations (in this case the constitutional status of both governments and the administration and operationalisation of diaspora projects);
  • the a priori inclination of each diaspora to be engaged (the scale and geography of the Scottish and Irish diasporas and the strength of patriotism and cultural inclination to connect with the homeland);
  • the social, economic and demographic imperatives which might motivate further intervention;
  • and finally the detailed and concrete policy interventions which are being pursued in Ireland and Scotland, paying particular attention to the growing economic importance of diaspora knowledge networks.

2.9 The final section concludes by setting out the key points which might merit further consideration and debate if Scotland is to develop a more coherent vista on its relations with its diaspora.

2.10 Prior to departure, it would be remiss not to set the study into the context of the transformations which have occurred in the world economy in the past months and the movement of both the Scottish and Irish economies into recession. It is now estimated that the Irish economy will contract by approximately -4% in the next twelve months whilst the Scottish economy is projected to decline between - 0.4 and -1.9% 4. Clearly, the changing economic circumstances will have ramifications for diaspora policy, affecting as it will remittance transfers, philanthropy, the extension of welfare entitlements, migration patterns, tourist flows and the functioning of economic networks. But it is not all bad. Indeed, according to at least one influential commentator in Ireland, it may be that diaspora groups have an even greater role to play in promoting national economic development in the present climate 5. It is evident that further research into the specific consequences of the contemporary world economic recession for diaspora policy is required but such a task is beyond the remit of this particular report.

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