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.


4.1 A meaningful diaspora strategy depends upon a clear understanding of who belongs to the diaspora. This is in part a pragmatic matter: any strategy needs to ration limited resources through careful planning and targeting. It is also, however, of significant political concern. An emerging criticism levelled at diaspora strategies around the world - and seeds of this criticism have already being sown in the academic literature on Scotland and Ireland's diaspora policies 8 - is that they risk the racialisation of economic policy and national growth strategies, prioritising the Scots or the Irish as a global tribe and potentially overlooking the contribution of other migrant groups resident in Scotland and Ireland. If the concept of diaspora is too narrowly defined the boundaries drawn between those included and those excluded might prove to be problematic and unhelpful. As such, it becomes critical to identify which constituencies ought to be included in Scotland and Ireland's diaspora strategies in order to ensure a wide and cosmopolitan approach.

4.2 In seeking to draw clearer boundaries some reflection on the wider application of the concept is required. Of Greek origin and commonly thought of as popularised by Jewish religious history, the notion of diaspora eventually worked its way into the social scientific literature in the 1950s, through firstly African Studies and then Armenian Studies. Taken to refer in principle to the scattering or scrambling of a particular population, in the past decade the concept has diffused widely throughout the social sciences and humanities and in so doing has lost much of its original meaning. It is possible to identify at least three definitions of diaspora, based respectively on the concepts of 'forced migration', 'mass scattering', and 'connectivity' respectively. Each frames diaspora differently, leading to the inclusion and exclusion of different population groups and as a consequence the cultivation of different ways of thinking about strategies towards diasporic populations. The three definitions are mapped out most clearly in the work of William Safran, Robin Cohen and Roza Tsagarousianou 9.

4.3 William Safran's definition of diaspora conceives of diaspora as only one particular form of mass migration, that involving forced exile and a fraught and lengthy period of resettlement and planting down of new roots in regions of destination. Diaspora consists of migrations where:

  • Original communities have spread from the homeland to two or more countries.
  • These communities are bound to their original geographical locations by a common vision, memory, or myth about their homeland.
  • These communities harbour a belief that they will never be accepted by their hosts and therefore develop autonomous cultural and social needs.
  • They believe that they or their descendants will return to the homeland should conditions prove favourable.
  • They are strongly motivated to maintain support for their homeland and communal consciousness and solidarity enable them to continue to take an interest in homeland affairs.

4.4 Robin Cohen has moved to widen Safran's definition. Cohen argued that diaspora should include those groups who scatter voluntarily as well as those who move as a result of aggression, persecution or extreme hardship, should only be applied to groups who have settled in a new destination for a relatively long time period, should take into account the positive aspects of migrants' lives in regions of destination, should acknowledge that assimilation and integration into host cultures does occur and should permit an inclusion of second, third, and later generation descendants. Diaspora incorporated all kinds of mass population movement and Safran's definition was overly restrictive. On this basis Cohen identified five types of diaspora:

  • Victim diasporas ( e.g., classic diasporas forced into exile such as the Jewish, African, Armenian diasporas)
  • Labour diasporas ( e.g., mass migration in search of work and economic opportunities such as the Indian and Turkish diasporas)
  • Trade diasporas ( e.g., migrations seeking to open trade routes and links such as the Chinese and Lebanese diasporas)
  • Imperial diasporas ( e.g., migration among those keen to serve and maintain empires such as the British and French diasporas)
  • Cultural diaspora ( e.g., those who move through a process of chain migration such as the Caribbean diaspora).

4.5 Whilst widening and loosening the types of migrations which might be included there remain limitations to Cohen's definition. According to Tsagarousianou (2004), communications and transportation advances have made mobility so efficient today that migration is rarely permanent and there is a need to resist thinking of diaspora in terms of permanent settlement. Diasporas have always been more mobile than commonly assumed but today they are more transient than they have ever been in history. The consequence is that connectivity within and between the diaspora, both physical and virtual, has never been as dense or as extensive. Diasporas need to be conceived of as being fundamentally reworked by new forms of mobility and communication technologies. Diasporas operate on a transnational basis and the term best refers to 'complex multidirectional flows of human beings, ideas, products - cultural and physical, and to forms of interaction, negotiation and exchange.' The implication then is that not all expatriates are diasporeans, the term being confined to those who are proactively engaged in transnational activity.

4.6 With a view to further clarity, in this report we endorse Cohen's widening and loosening of the concept of diaspora and argue for an inclusive conceptualization of diaspora as a central component of any diaspora strategy. Moreover we argue that it is important to take seriously and promote the concept of 'affinity diaspora'. In addition, we propose that it is critical to take seriously forms of mobility which are more transitory and the use of the new forms of communication which are now available. A new generation of diaspora strategies are made possible by new communication and transport technologies. Nevertheless the report will not discard entirely the theme of forced migration and will note the importance of the exile motif in diaspora formation and in turn diaspora strategies. Diasporas which are underpinned by a communal belief in the importance of forced migration and estrangement from ready assimilation in settlement regions do provide a different set of resources for diaspora strategies and this distinction will prove important in the Scottish and Irish comparison.

4.7 In this report then the concept of diaspora will be taken to include:

  • a collection of people who share a common national, civic or ethnic identity and who were either forced to leave or voluntarily left their settled territory and became residents in a new territory.
  • descendants of these emigrants who remain interested in their heritage and who might be prepared to reengage with their ancestral home.
  • migrants who move in a transient, circular and more nomadic way, leading a transnational existence which entails moving into and out of the homeland for short periods, including business travellers.

4.8 An affinity diaspora is a collection of people, usually former immigrants and tourists or business travellers, who have a different national or ethnic identity to a nation state but who feel some special affinity or affection for that nation state and who act on its behalf, whilst resident in the state, after they return home, or from a third country.

4.9 A diaspora strategy then will be taken to refer to an explicit policy initiative or series of policy initiatives enacted by a state, or its peoples, aimed at developing relationships between diaspora and affinity diaspora populations. A diaspora strategy needs not be over-determined and can be quite light in conception and application, and is best thought of as an overarching framework for providing a level of coherence to the range of concrete diaspora policies devised and implemented by a variety of public, private, and voluntary agencies.

4.10 To date neither Scotland nor Ireland has articulated a clear sense of who it considers its diaspora to consist of, although a debate in each country has begun and some useful pointers provided. Fortunately neither is lapsing into a narrow and restrictive use of the label by default. Indeed, each has a welcome commitment to broadening the concept to include all groups who live overseas and who have a special affinity with Scotland and Ireland. Therein each has witnessed the rise of a keen interest in better understanding the structure, scale, form, geography, and causes of migration to and from them 10. It is correctly assumed that the wider the net is cast the richer the contributions harnessed will be. There is no sense that the turn to the diaspora represents a resort to a form of ethnic nationalism and indeed where diaspora policies are worked into debates on Scottish and Irish nationalism, they are most commonly framed as part of wider appeals to civic nationalisms. In both cases, there is clearly a desire for wider, looser, and more inclusive approaches. Nevertheless, our assessment is that in both Scotland and Ireland most programmes are designed with first generation and descendants of first generation Scottish and Irish migrants in mind. In both cases therefore, there would appear to be scope for, firstly, greater engagement with affinity diasporas and, secondly, a heightened understanding of how Scottish and Irish people move around the world and communicate with home in the twenty first century.

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