Scotland and the Scottish diaspora can learn from Ireland's effective use of its global ties – Angus Robertson
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“In Scotland's story I read that they came, The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane, But so did the Irishman, Jew and Ukraine, They're all Scotland's Story and they're all worth the same” is how the chorus of the poignant Proclaimers’ song Scotland’s Story puts it. Scotland has also seen millions leave their homes, sometimes forcefully, to start lives elsewhere. It is estimated that the Scottish diaspora totals tens of millions of people, with the biggest numbers to be found in the United States, Canada, Australia, England and Argentina.
Many members of the Scottish diaspora have maintained their connections, celebrating their heritage and ancestry with clubs, organisations and cultural events. Others have maintained a less active interest in where their forbearers came from, but perhaps at some stage visiting Scotland to learn more. For some more recent arrivals from Scotland, economic and business ties remain strong and contribute to jobs and investment. This Scottish diaspora has been well documented by the likes of ‘To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora’ by Tom Devine, ‘The Scottish World: A Journey Into the Scottish Diaspora’ by Billy Kay, and ‘Global Scots – Voices from Afar’ by Kenny MacAskill and Henry McLeish.
More recently a study was conducted by Professor Murray Stewart Leith and Dr Duncan Sim of the University of the West of Scotland for the Scottish Government on comparative international approaches to diaspora communities. One particularly interesting section deals with the ‘affinity’ diaspora. In their report, they write: “This category of people is less easy to define but it can be considered to include those who feel a connection to Scotland, who may be active through cultural or extended family groups, or who may simply be attracted to the heritage or culture of the country itself. An increasingly large element within the affinity diaspora is that of university alumni, who may have no family or ancestral connections to Scotland, but who have studied in Scotland and, after graduation, have retained an affection for the country and may be associated with or active in alumni groups and organisations.”
While this study has been informing thinking about how best to engage with all parts of the historic and more contemporary Scottish diaspora, our near neighbours in Ireland have been marking major anniversaries and reaching out to the international Irish communities and friends of Ireland. Events to mark St Patrick’s Day 2023 were, according to the Irish Foreign Ministry, the most ambitious engagement by Ireland with the world, with ministers reaching out to governments and Irish communities on every continent to promote Ireland and Irish interests. Thirty-six representatives of the state hosted over 850 official events in 70-plus cities across 41 countries.
Ministers marked a number of significant anniversaries, including the centenary of Ireland joining the League of Nations, the 50th anniversary of Irish accession to the then EEC, and especially the Good Friday Agreement’s 25th anniversary.
Scotland has a huge international diaspora and the economic, educational and cultural benefits of promoting enhanced links are obvious. With new thinking, ambition and initiative, the 21st-century connections between Scotland and the Scottish diaspora can be better than ever.