Cultural Connect arranged a debate on the Modern diaspora of Scots last night in the parliament, and asked me to chair it. The panel consisted of former first minister Henry McLeish and justice minister Kenny MacAskill who have collaborated on books including Global Scots and Wherever the Saltire Flies. They were joined by the distinguished academic Cairns Craig, the Professor of Irish and Scottish studies at the University of Aberdeen and Harry McGrath who was for many years head of the Centre for Scottish Studies at the Simon Fraser University in Canada.
As the Year of Homecoming draws to an end, we seem no clearer as to how to tap into the worldwide "global Scottish family" who number between 30 million and 100 million depending on who you talk to. Kenny MacAskill and Henry McLeish felt Homecoming has been a great success and Kenny in particular said we should not feel embarrassed about representations of our culture. However Professor Craig said that Scottish cultural had been reduced to a series of performance rituals - bagpipes, marching bands etc. He pointed out that The Irish Development Agency had used culture in a much more sophisticated way through a marketing campaign feating W B Yeats, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and other writers, as evidence that Ireland was a country of Great Minds. Scotland has separated ancestral tourism from business marketing. There is a way to bring the two together. But there is also a risk that ancestral tourism could send out the wrong message about Scotland as a modern, well educated and innovative country in which to do business.
Henry McLeish felt we needed to engender more confidence within Scotland about what our culture actually was. There was a sense that we lacked institutions and educational facilities to explain and promote our culture, not just to other parts of the world, but to ourselves.
My own thoughts on Homecoming are mixed. It was a good way to promote tourism and there is certainly no shame in reaching out to our diaspora - 60 other countries already have Diaspora Engagement Programmes. I agree that we need far more educatiuon WITHIN SCOTLAND about our own, extremely varied, culture. Celebrating our own culture does not mean excluding others - there is room for everyone. One member of the audience pointed to Celtic Connections in Glasgow as a perfect example of a festival that managed to appeal to traditional, modern, young and old, Scots and non Scots. I heartily agree. Celtic Connections was responsible for the Jamaican Burns Night with Sly and Robbie, Reggae's greatest producers.
I commissioned Pat Kane to write on this and your can read his interview on the Play Ethic blog - definitely one of homecoming Scotland's finest hours!