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.


3.1 At his address at Trinity College in Dublin on February 13 th 2008, Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, sought to identify ten lessons - 'the main inspirations' - that Scotland might draw from the remarkable growth of the Irish economy from the early 1990s. These lessons referred to constitutional matters as well as social, economic, and cultural strategies:

  1. There are no limits to the success of a nation united by a common purpose and a clarity of will and purpose.
  2. Political independence in itself does not guarantee success: it is what you do with that independence which matters.
  3. While only Ireland has recent experience of independence, both countries 'can agree' that continued membership of the United Kingdom 'guarantees underperformance'.
  4. Investment in human capital - the education, skills and potential of our people - is the basic determinant of economic success.
  5. The European Union is and will remain Scotland and Ireland's most significant economic relationship.
  6. Prosperity depends on openness and the development of comparative advantage.
  7. An economic windfall must be used wisely; economic gains need to be reinvested heavily in education and training, and strengthening the business environment to attract mobile capital.
  8. Economic growth creates its own challenges. Fast growth is not a panacea - though vitally, it creates the potential for the whole of society to enjoy prosperity.
  9. Small, peaceful countries can exercise major global influence, not on the bases of military power and alliances, but on values and ideals.
  10. There is no blueprint for the transition to full independence. Constitutional incrementalism is not always the best approach.

3.2 Whilst not making it into his ten critical lessons, First Minister Salmond then progressed to a reflection upon the similarities which exist between the Scottish and Irish diasporas:

'The similarities between Scotland and Ireland are striking. Look abroad and it is almost a mirror image. Because for the people of two small Atlantic nations, the Scots and the Irish have left broad and unmistakable tracks across much of the world. And not only are the Scots and Irish welcomed across the globe - the affection and admiration runs deeper. So deep that tens of millions of citizens - in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand - are proud to trace back their ancestry to our two great nations. Across the world, over 80 million people - more than one in every hundred - lays claim to being Irish. And 45 million regard themselves as Scots. The size and impact of both the Scottish and Irish Diasporas is truly astonishing.' (Alex Salmond, Trinity College Dublin, Feb 13 th 2008)

3.3 This comparison is one which is frequently commented upon. As diaspora policy emerges as an important public policy matter, more focused dialogue between Scotland and Ireland on diaspora and diaspora strategy seems inevitable. But why might this specific comparison be valuable? Why might this particular area of public policy merit a place in the wider dialogue which is taking place between Scotland and Ireland's past, current status, and future trajectories?

3.4 Diasporic populations have long played a significant role in the economic, political, social, and cultural life of their home nations. Historically, remittance receipts in particular have served a critical role in maintaining domestic economies which otherwise would have further stagnated. From the beginning of the Second World War however, governments from home countries have taken a more proactive stance and sought to engage diasporic groups to particular ends. Three subsequent waves of diaspora policy can be identified, each overlapping today 6.

  • Firstly, from 1945 and guided by the United Nations, developing countries sought to send to universities in the west and then repatriate undergraduate and postgraduate students, in particular medical and engineering students. These returnees were called upon to put their learning to the service of the economic and social welfare of their countries.
  • Secondly, from the late 1960s onwards peripheral economies within the developed world began to develop an interest in out migration, now conceived off as constituting a brain drain. Stemming out migration and fostering a return of diasporic talent (brain incubation or brain circulation) emerged as a key policy concern.
  • Thirdly, from the 1990s onwards both peripheral and core regions within the developed world began to reconceive of the potential offered by diasporic groups from afar. The hope that significant return migration would occur was ill founded and in any event diasporic groups might be better engaged in situ. In the global economy of today, it has come to be appreciated that global networks and ties can be useful for enhancing national competitiveness.

3.5 Whilst comprising a wider set of objectives, the Scottish and Irish comparison needs to be set against this backdrop. The World Bank has emerged as a key advocate of third wave diaspora strategies and has sought to promote policy debate, learning, and transfer in the area of diaspora policy. In so doing it has developed a typology of 'country potential' based upon the state of readiness of the home nations (politically, culturally, infrastructurally, etc) to engage overseas populations and the fitness of purpose of diasporic groups (scale, degree of organisation, level of patriotism, etc) to be mobilised by their home nations (see Table 1) 7. Whilst this framework is clearly over simplified and provides only a crude categorisation of diaspora policy in particular countries, it is interesting to note that Scotland and Ireland are both ascribed the highest degree of country potential. At least according to the World Bank, a comparison of both country's diaspora policies might be fruitful as each is well positioned to engage their respective diaspora and each has a relatively large, well organised, and committed diaspora.

Table 1 - Country potential for diaspora strategy

Unfavourable Country Conditions

Moderate Country Conditions

Favourable Country Conditions

Sophisticated Diaspora Networks

Armenia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka

El Salvador, India, Vietnam

China, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, Scotland

Emerging diaspora networks

Colombia, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Ukraine

Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Transition economies

Croatia, Chile, Hungary, Slovenia, Malaysia, Thailand

3.6 This comparison seems all the more appropriate given that both Ireland and Scotland are moving to redefine their relationships with their respective diaspora. From the turn of the century and stimulated in part by falling rates of fertility and fears of skills shortages in key sectors of the Scottish economy, the Scottish Executive began to think more formally about the relationships it might build with Scottish expatriate communities. In April 2008, following publication of its national economic strategy, the Scottish Government published its International Framework establishing the methodology through which it was to coordinate its international engagement and identifying the Scottish diaspora as a new 'key priority'. The flagship event Homecoming 2009, inviting Scots to return to Scotland for a holiday or perhaps more permanently, has served to galvanise resolve to further harness the energies, knowledge, talents, and good will of the Scottish diaspora. According to the International Framework document:

'Scotland's Diaspora population around the world and across other parts of the UK consists of large numbers of people with a good will towards Scotland, who have the potential to improve our reputation and drive economic growth by acting as ambassadors for Scotland. We continue to work with Global Scots and our Global Friends of Scotland to put in place mutually beneficial relationships and to understand how Scotland and the Diaspora can work together to develop mutually beneficial partnerships. The year of Homecoming in 2009 will be a real focus for energising and engaging our Diaspora, and we will ensure it has a lasting legacy in terms of better, more effective and higher impact communication with Scotland's Diaspora.'

3.7 Likewise as early as 1995, then Irish President Mary Robinson in an Address to the Houses of the Oireachtas, spoke about the importance of 'Cherishing the Irish Diaspora'. In 2002 the Task Force on Policy towards Emigration set forth a bold new agenda for Ireland's engagement with its diaspora. This agenda prioritised redirecting some of the riches of the Celtic Tiger to protect the welfare of vulnerable groups within the diaspora living in the United Kingdom and the United States. This policy notwithstanding, only five years later, in April 2007, Dermot Ahern TD, and then Minister for Foreign Affairs, announced that Ireland was to embark upon a major review of its diaspora policy. Set against the backdrop of fears that the Irish economic success was running its course, Ahern recognised the value of engaging the diaspora so as to nurture mutually beneficial relations:

'The time is right to review our approach to our community across the globe and to develop a strategy for the years ahead. Maintaining and enhancing our links with our communities abroad has been a particular priority for the government. Just as the nature of our diaspora has never been fixed, our attitudes and our capacity to engage with the Irish abroad have changed with our nation's fortunes. We need to regularly reshape our policies in this key area and this conference will launch this process.'

3.8 Both cited as exemplars of third wave diaspora strategies and both in the throes of much introspection over the future shape of their approaches to their diaspora, Scotland and Ireland have much to talk about, compare and contrast, and this report aims to contribute this dialogue

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