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.


9.1 Diaspora strategies are built around five key pillars: firstly, a clear understanding of who belongs to the diaspora and which groups are being targeted for attention; secondly, a conscious appreciation of how and using what means states might best engage their diasporic populations; thirdly, an awareness of the histories and geographies of diasporas which produce different levels of desire and different competencies to connect with the homeland; fourthly, the social, cultural, economic, and demographic rationales which ought to guide and give purpose to specific kinds of intervention; and lastly, the range of innovative and effective concrete policy interventions available. Any comparative analysis of Scotland and Ireland's diaspora policies needs to take account of these five foundations. Whilst inevitably simplifying a more nuanced and complex reality, this report has attempted to identify the key similarities and differences which exist between Scotland and Ireland in each case.

9.2 In overall terms both Scotland and Ireland have no clear definition as to who might be part of their diaspora policies but do show a keen interest in widening the concept of diaspora and incorporating a range of overseas populations with an interest in playing for 'Team Scotland' and 'Team Ireland'. Ireland's approach to its diaspora thereafter takes the form of what might be referred to as a developmental state, lightly incubating initiatives which have emerged organically from an already existing diasporic community. While the Irish state has placed a priority upon the provision of welfare from Ireland to vulnerable diasporic groups and to the preservation of strong social and cultural ties to Ireland, it also increasingly aspires to harness the diaspora to stimulate the country's faltering knowledge economy. In contrast, the Scottish Government remains embedded within the British state and has a more narrowly defined and structured approach to engaging the Scottish diaspora, which in turns is believed to be less organised and primed. To date the Scottish approach would appear to be motivated by a number of demographic and economic concerns which are assumed to be contributing to an under-performing economy. That said, reigniting the social and cultural attachment of the diaspora to Scotland is now being recognised as an emerging priority. Reflecting these conditions, both Scotland and Ireland undertake a range of concrete policy interventions, but place different emphases upon which interventions to adopt and how to implement them.

9.3 Key questions for further reflection and debate

This report has been written as an invitation to debate as to how Scotland might progress towards a diaspora strategy. We have noted that the term 'strategy' is best used loosely in this context, 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 to a preferred orientation as to how these ties might best be developed. It need not imply, and may not be best served by, a coherent and formalised top down, bureaucratically regulated, and managerialist, blueprint. As such, our intention has not been to produce a set of firm recommendations. Nevertheless a number of key questions emerge and by way of conclusion it is worthwhile drawing attention to them.

9.4 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.

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

The Irish approach to 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. The state has also recognized its role in supporting vulnerable Irish abroad and in fostering Irish-mindedness as prerequisite for creating a sustainable relationship with its diaspora. 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. Moreover, the Scottish approach has clearly delivered a number of impressive schemes, in particular the much heralded GlobalScot network. This said, we believe that 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. The metrics through which schemes are evaluated and judged to have succeeded or failed should also be considered. Public accountability, transparency, and auditability are crucial for the legitimacy of schemes but diaspora initiatives often require sustained and long term investment before they bear fruits and these fruits are often intangible and unquantifiable but undeniably beneficial. As such public administration of diaspora schemes should consider creating a specific set of measurable deliverables suitable to the task and timeframe at hand.

9.6 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 patriotism and Scottish-mindedness in the diaspora. This must come before all other forms of engagement and is a prerequisite for success. The nature of these cultural foundations also needs reflection and certainly has to move beyond stereotypical tropes of clan, tartan, whiskey, bagpipes, Burns and golf to engage with the full diversity of the Scottish diaspora. It is clear that a critical mass of high profile culture building projects are now underway and these will surely make a significant contribution to the building of the diaspora. Nevertheless. a full and open debate is required as to the extent to which Scottish Independence will be required if Scotland is to expect its diaspora to be as lively and vibrant as Ireland or whether the diaspora can be enlivened within the existing constitutional arrangements.

9.7 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. 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 the Scottish diaspora are all key and pressing priorities. In addition, many countries are viewing their diaspora as a primed resource waiting to be exploited for economic gain. We feel that this view will deliver short-term gains but will potentially fail over the long term. People will quickly tire of a relationship that is unidirectional and any scheme has to be structured in such a way that the diaspora gains as much out of the relationship as Scotland. From this perspective, the diaspora becomes a precious resource to be cared for and tended, valued and re-energised, so that Scotland grows in partnership with its diaspora.

9.8 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

9.9 And they should consider building a larger version of Scottish Networks International and help to nurture (though not own and run) ventures such as Scots in London network.

9.10 Ireland should in turn study and draw lessons from :

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

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