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Issue 45 - Come together

Scotland Magazine Issue 45
June 2009

 

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Come together

With VisitScotland’s Homecoming Scotland initiative running throughout 2009, there is one invitation-only event in particular that to my mind stands out as totally unique. That is the seminar being hosted in the Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament on Friday 24th July.

Entitled The Clan Convention, and orchestrated by the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs in partnership with the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body and The Gathering 2009, it brings together no less than 120 of Scotland’s Chiefs of Whole Names and Clans for the first time in recorded history. It is a genealogist’s dream. Never before in Scotland’s long and colourful history have the senior representatives of so many Highland and Lowland Scottish surnames been assembled together in one place, not even in the run up to the battles of Bannockburn, Flodden or Culloden Moor.

And underlying the discussion which will be chaired by Alex Fergusson MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, is a simple theme which has also never before been successfully addressed by the powers that be. In today’s global village, Scotland is not just a country of five million people. By harnessing its worldwide kith and kin, it becomes a community of 40 million people.

It seems extraordinary, but in the first decade of the third millennium, there are now more 500 Scottish clan and family associations registered throughout the world. With such a proactive international bloodline of goodwill and affection already in place surely there have to be a thousand ways for them all to work together for the betterment of humankind.

But how do we set about making this happen?

To begin with, I rather like the idea of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs playing such a pivotal role. Although it was only founded in the early 1950s, the Standing Council has too often been dismissed as an anachronistic and elitist social club steeped in the glories of the past. Now, with the ramifications of a worldwide family, it has the opportunity to take the lead and to fulfil obligations which its members’ predecessors would have taken for granted.

In a bygone age, our ancestors fought each other over territory, religion and power, just like everyone else it seems, but the big difference was that, in the majority, they got over it and moved on.

Back home in Scotland, even after the passing of three centuries, the jury is still out on the ravages of the Highland Clearances, and the lesser known Lowland migration through Ulster. But if there is anything positive to be learned from such acts of political betrayal, it is the ability of the Scots to adapt and to prosper wherever they found themselves, yet at the same time to fiercely retain a sense of their own identity.

Today, with the genuine advantages of a common language and the common bond of a shared ancestry, the opportunities for collaboration across the oceans are infinite. If the Irish can successfully forge a similar international workshop based on kinship, then what is holding the Scots back?

Of course, not every clan or faction is being represented at the Clan Convention, which, as I have already mentioned, is by invitation only. Nevertheless, during the following weekend more than 151 diverse clan and family associations have signed up for the activities taking place in Holyrood Park and for those who wish to participate in the continuing debate, a separate Scottish Diaspora Forum is being held on Saturday 25th, also in the Scottish Parliament. Attendance is free, but you will need to register beforehand. On Monday 27th, there is a Homecoming Leadership Conference taking place at Queen Margaret College, flagged as an opportunity for “those in the Scottish Diaspora to meet representatives of Scottish governmental and other bodies.” Again you will need to register to attend. Nothing of this kind on this scale has ever been seen before in Scotland. All we have to do now is pray for good weather! And constructive conclusions.

Through the years I have been enormously fortunate in having been invited to participate in Scottish celebrations in North Carolina, Washington and New York in the USA; in Toronto, Halifax and Antigonish in Canada, and in Sydney, Australia. On all of these occasions there was an underlying sense of fun and enjoyment coupled with a serious respect for the heritage and traditions of the past.

In a multi-faceted, multi-faith world of schism and mistrust, what more could one ask for? And if this sense of fun and enjoyment can be harnessed to generate tourism and business opportunities throughout the diaspora, then the world is our oyster.