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Issue 17 - On the face of it, it's chiefly good news

Scotland Magazine Issue 17
November 2004

 

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On the face of it, it's chiefly good news

Roddy Marting talks...

There have been two exciting developments concerning the friendly face of Scotland. The first is that Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell has personally appointed Edinburgh's former Lord Provost Eric Milligan to become Scotland's Welcome Tsar; the second is that VisitScotland, Scotland's tourism authority, in re-launching its Ancestral Scotland website in Toronto and New York, and indeed, England, has invited two of Scotland's hereditary clan chiefs, the 20th Earl of Caithness (chief of the Sinclairs), and the 21st Lord Sempill, to front up its promotional events.

To begin with, Eric, Scotland's longest serving civic leader, is tasked with making recommendations to improve visitor facilities at Scotland's airports, bus and railway stations, and when crossing the Border by road from England.

Those readers who have witnessed him in action, during Tartan Week in New York and Washington, at L’Ecosse a Montmartre Scottish Festival in Paris, or at Nancy Sinatra's birthday bash at London's Festival Hall, will applaud his appointment, despite its Russian-sounding connotations.

As a fellow honorary sponsor of the American Scottish Foundation, I can think of no more generous or characterful representative when visitors disembark at their romantic Caledonia destinations. In this context, I am reminded of an Edinburgh Festival Fringe parade a couple of years ago when he travelled down Princes Street in a kilt while seated in the hand of a giant Godzilla, and the time when he awarded the South African president Nelson Mandela with the freedom of the city and a dram of Scotch!

The man is a natural showman and universally popular across Scotland's political divide.

The involvement of Malcolm Caithness and Jamie Sempill, both prominent in the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, is also long overdue.

Earlier this year I marched down New York's 6th Avenue with Malcolm, a former UK Government minister, in the Tartan Day Parade, and two days later looked on with a mixture of astonishment and awe when, sporting the three eagle feathers of a Scottish clan chief in his bonnet, he participated as a model in the Dressed to Kilt fashion show.

Jamie, who is the marketing director of the Caledonian Brewery, I have always considered to be a natural communicator. Last year he toured the Highland games circuit in the USA and I doubt that anyone has a better grasp of the way in which the Scotland of old is celebrated across the Great Pond.

However, the reason I specifically welcome their input into the promotion of the VisitScotland genealogy project (www.ancestralscotland.com) is that when the web site was first devised three years ago, it did strike me that, at a glance, clan and family associations were noticeably absent. Happily, things have moved on since then.

Of course, at the time of the first launch, the fundamental purpose was to steer those in search of ancestors to the appropriate locations for further research. The rest was up to them, but the response soon proved that the potential for developing this site is enormous, especially if there is a way in which the world-wide strengths of that incomparable network of clan and family associations, Robert Burns and St Andrews societies, and yes, the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, can somehow be harnessed. What other nation has such a wealth of international contacts and knowledge to draw upon?

In the USA, Scotland already has an extremely able ambassador in Susan Stewart. Although she sees her role primarily as a communicator, eschewing the “ambassador” title in favour of First Secretary, Scottish Affairs, her Scottish Executive appointment, made only days before the tragedy of 9/11, successfully bridges the gap between Brigadoon and biotech.

Since starting the job, Susan has criss-crossed the American continent spreading the word about Scotland's 21st century expertise and contemporary culture.

“Scotland is a state of mind as much as it is a country,” she observed recently. “It is not only people of Scottish heritage that we want to reach out to.”

Last year she enthusiastically supported the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival held in Washington. The eight-day event attracted over one million visitors.

Another memorable first was a pantomime staged by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

“We are a small country trying to make an impact in a world of super powers,” she says. “It is vital that our message is coherent and that our activities complement each other.”

We Scots are, indeed, a ken speckle race, as witness the line-up – a lass from Renfrew with a background in local politics and media, two working chiefs, one of a clan which long ago dominated the far north and Orkney islands, the other of a family from Lochwinnoch, and, not least, the convenor of Lothian and Borders Police Board who is a passionate supporter of the Edinburgh-based Herts Football Club.

Together they make up a formidable team.