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Issue 46 - A lot to be proud of

Scotland Magazine Issue 46
August 2009


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A lot to be proud of

We were gathered together in Edinburgh’s Dome Restaurant to celebrate the presentation of an honourary doctorate from Queen Margaret’s University to Alan Bain, President Emeritus of the American Scottish Foundation, when the conversation turned to the fragility of Scotland’s influence in the global community. This came as something of a surprise to many of those present who were of the opinion that it was stronger than ever before.

With Homecoming, and the focal Gathering in Scotland’s Capital in July, it might even be said that Scotland’s image abroad is riding the crest of a wave. The surge of interest and affection which has surrounded these events certainly gives that impression. However, it has to be acknowledged that the real test comes not with an older generation who share a common curiosity to find out more about their forefathers and the land of their ancestors, but with their sons and daughters, who are understandably more preoccupied with the challenges of the 21st century.

A few years ago in Sydney I was being warned that the explosion of Asian culture taking place in Australia was sweeping away everything in its path; that the organisers of Scottish (and Irish) cultural events were finding it increasingly harder to engage with the younger generation who in the majority prefer rock bands to ceilidh bands. Well, there is nothing new in that, but the prospect remains that if second or third generation expatriates fail to communicate the folklore and legends passed on to them by immigrant parents and grandparents, the oral traditions upon which the romance of the past depends will disappear without a trace.

And that is why it becomes so essential for those of us who are involved in Brand Scotland to reassess our strengths. What does it mean to be a Scot in a multicultural universe?

During the 1980s, archaeological excavations in the Taklimakan Desert, near Hami in North West China, unearthed three tombs containing the well-preserved, mummified remains of four Caucasian men and two women. All were red headed, dressed in tartan cloth, and, it was subsequently confirmed, lived 4,000 years ago.

And what made this discovery all the more astonishing is that it contradicted all previous notions that the Celtic people had long ago migrated exclusively west from the plains of Hungary. Some, it now transpired, had gone east.

The core message of Aisling’s Children, the colourful pageant enacted on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle during the Gathering in July, was the reading out of the Declaration of Arbroath, that formal assertion of Scotland’s independence signed by the nobles of Scotland on 6th April 1320 and sent to the Pope in Rome. Four hundred and six years later it was to have a profound influence on the content of the American Declaration of Independence, which is not so surprising really since half of the signatories of that great egalitarian document were of Scottish descent.

However, in addition to the Declaration of Arbroath’s insistence that it was not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that its signatories were fighting, but for freedom, the document further asserts: “Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today.” That was the way in which the provenance of the Scots was spelled out all those years ago, and it was this same sense of identity, embodying that same pioneering spirit, which inspired so many of the heirs to this legacy to enlist as mercenaries in the European wars, import Christianity into the darkest corners of Africa, and colonise the New World.

In a troubled and often divisive global community, those are the messages that we need to use to harness the generations of the future. If you have Scots blood in your veins, whether you be loyal American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealander, European or, indeed, Chinese, you have an awful lot to be proud of.

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