Back in 2009, the Scottish government commissioned a series of reports into the advantages of engaging with Scots living abroad. The Irish had done a similar thing a few years earlier, and had found the potential for a large economic benefit to Ireland if the country reached out to their expatriates.
The most interesting thing about the Scottish reports, however, were that they focused not only Scottish-born people living abroad, but also the children of Scottish migrants, their grandchildren, and people who simply identified as being a Scot. This collective group of Scots and their descendants is known as the ‘Scottish diaspora’ – a global clan encompassing up to 40 million people worldwide.
What is a diaspora? The term originally referred to the situation of the Jewish people after their exile from Israel. Forced from their homeland, they were Jews ‘living in the diaspora’ – still Jewish, but living away from their place of origin. Today, the term encompasses a broader range of experiences, from forced exile to voluntary migration. It is usually the case that the people who have been identified as a diaspora consider themselves to belong to an ethnic, national or religious community ‘living away from home’.
Due largely to migration during the days of the British Empire, and continued migration in search of work and better living, the Scottish diaspora has today spread to every corner of the globe in massive numbers.
Most readers of the Scottish Banner would consider themselves as members of the global Scottish diaspora. The important thing about diasporas, however, is that they don’t automatically exist – Scots living abroad have to create and maintain their connections with ‘home’. Otherwise, they simply become Australians, Kiwis, Americans or Canadians.
To help keep the link alive, Scots living abroad have founded Caledonian societies, conducted Highland games, established Clan organisations, and, of course, published Scottish-interest magazines and newspapers. The popularity of some of these cultural activities in every country where Scots have settled has led some to observe that Scots abroad are more Scottish than those at home are. Some even say that Scots don’t discover they’re Scottish until they’ve left Scotland!
It’s no only Scottish-born people are involved in maintaining the connection between Scotland and their adopted country. In some recent research I completed on Caledonian societies, I found that, in Australia, it has often been the children and grandchildren of Scots who have been the most active in these organisations. Another project discovered that many Scots in Australia’s postwar migration period had very little interest in Scottish societies when they got here; they were more concerned with finding a job, a home, and ‘getting on with it’.
Some scholars suggest that the reason for this is that new Scottish arrivals do not relate to Highland games, haggis, tartan and bagpipes – these are all romanticised versions of the real Scotland. Many Scots do not become involved with these things until later in life, and after many years living away from Scotland. Whatever the cause, ‘being Scottish’ is not just limited to those born in Scotland – most people who identify as being Scottish were not born there, and many have never even visited its shores.
In the future, the global clan will have a bigger influence on affairs in Scotland. In 2009, when the Scottish government released its report into the Scottish diaspora, an event was also held which many readers will be familiar with – Highland Homecomings. The occasion lasted an entire year, and the idea was to attract members of the vast global Scottish diaspora back to Scotland, to visit their ancestral homeland. For the first time, it was not just Scots abroad creating links home – Scotland was reaching out to her sons and daughters across the world.