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Issue 31 - Thriving abroad

Scotland Magazine Issue 31
February 2007


This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Thriving abroad

It was the combination of a book launch, and meeting up with Eddie Tait, who runs the website, that got me thinking about just how well the Scottish diaspora (I dislike that word intensely, but it appears to fit the current obsession with meaningless media jargon) is doing nowadays.

The book launch, which took place at the headquarters of The Scotsman newspaper before Christmas, was for Wherever the Saltire Flies (Luath Press), a second collaboration between two members of the Scottish Parliament; Henry McLeish, a former First Minister, and Kenny MacAskill, a leading light of the Scottish National Party. Their highly researched book provides chapters on Caledonian and Scottish societies around the world, a phenomena which has fascinated me now for more than 30 years, On reflection, my interest was most probably derived from different objectives; from my having been born part of that diaspora (in Sarawak, now in Malaysia) and my father’s involvement with St Andrews Societies in Penang and Singapore.

Thereafter, when living in England, my parents had a great family friend called Margaret Mackay who was London representative of the National Trust for Scotland. Anyone Margaret knew with a connection north of the border was vigorously recruited to the cause, so we found ourselves, my sisters and I, roped into NTS promotions at an early age.

Between the late 1970s and 1990s, I worked out of Glasgow as editor of a string of Scottish interest magazines and North America and Canada beckoned, with trips to the Carolinas, Georgia, Washington, New York, Toronto and Nova Scotia. Australia came later, in November 2002, but what I discovered with all of these adventures was that, wherever they exist, Scottish communities abroad are tapping into their roots with a zest and passion unparalleled back in Scotland.

This, of course, brings me back to where I began, because all of these uniquely Scottish celebrations, across the Atlantic and Pacific and way down south in England, everything from the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan to a Burns Supper, has a dual-purpose. For a start, they provide a sense of national identity for those who, intentionally or otherwise, find themselves alone and far flung from their native land. Secondly, they provide a valuable support system, and it should be noted that this has been the case since James VI of Scotland and his financial side-kick “Jingling” Geordie Heriott first took the high road to England back in 1603.

Kenny MacAskill’s first chapter of his book centres on the Royal Scottish Corporation which began its existence shortly after James’s arrival in his new kingdom as The Scots Box. It was set up to provide alms and loans to Scots in trouble in London and, over the centuries, evolved into the Scottish Hospital of the Foundation of Charles II, thereafter into the Royal Scots Corporation and, now, ScotsCare (

Today it still dispenses aid and succour to London Scots, everything from sheltered housing for the elderly to assistance with housing, debt and job re-training. Arecent census reveals that there are 108,000 Scots resident in the Greater London area, but with second and third generation associations, the figure is more accurately 340,000.

As for Eddie Tait, who hails from Edinburgh and dresses like a city banker, he now has a Scots in London internet mailing audience of 4,000 and rising. If you want to find out what Scots are up to in London, then this is the fastest route, with access on-line to a quarterly newsletter and the opportunity to gain access to a string of business and social networking events. Added to this, Scots in London (SIL) not only sponsors the London Scottish Rugby Football Club, but also supports ScotsCare.

However, it is those business and social networking opportunities which make it all so extraordinarily valuable for all concerned, especially when you recall that expatriate Irish, Chinese and Jews have been operating along those lines for centuries. Mercifully, as has been proved, the Scots have always known how to look after their own. With the advent of the internet and, for those who prefer something more material, a periodical such as Scotland Magazine, making use of your Scots credentials has never been so simple.

I was recently talking on the telephone to an old friend from North Carolina. She had the day before purchased a condominium near Greenville and told me that she had been looking for a plumber to check out her water supply. “I just did not know where to begin,” she told me. “When I went online, I had the choice of a Macdonald, a Campbell and a Buchanan.” If only it was that simple to find a plumber in Scotland.