Sunday, 18 March 2012

Scottish Image Abroad and the Scottish Diaspora

Keeping to its daily scare story timetable, the Daily Mail reported last week that Alex Salmond is to spend taxpayer's money abroad, visitng countries such as China, India, Pakistan, the MIddle East, Africa and South Asia. Good, it is not before time. China, India and South east Asia just happen to have among the greatest potential for economic growth of anywhere in the world. He should then try to fit in Latin America, where there is already much goodwill for Scotland. There are anything up to 20 million Americans who claim either Scottish or Ulster Scottish ancestry, 4.5 million Canadians, 1.5 million Australians, 500,000 New Zealanders, 80,000 Chileans and almost 100,000 Argentinians. There are other odd thousands scattered elsewhere in the world and there are few Scots who do not have relaives abroad. I have relatives in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, all of them citizens of their new, adopted country but retaining a strong bond with Scotland. When teaching I once asked a class of 33 how many had relatives abroad and was astonished when 27 of them put up their hands.

This is an enormous advantage for any country which is attempting to win back its freedom and sovereignty because there is an already well-established well of goodwill, but for Scotland, it is as much about the image we portray abroad, the perception of us as a people that other countries and their people have, that gives us an even greater advantage than most. The part played by Scots and Ulster Scots in the birth and development of the USA is well known, as is our part in the birth and development of Canada. Any First Minister, and later Prime Minister of an independent Scotland, is pushing at an open door in developing political relationships in either of those two countries. In China, the part played by the Scottish Church won great goodwill and the potential to exploit oil technology in that part of the world is incalculable. The esteem in which Burns is held in Russia is amazing. It is getting that message across to the Scottish electorate that is now important, to counter the narrow, mean-spirited and totally destructive game being played by Scotland's Unionist politicians and their media mouthpieces.

I took Humza Yousaf to task over his comments on Question Time about "haggis-eating, kilt-wearing, Braveheart Nationalism". He had two Scottish Unionists on the panel, leaders of their parties and both of whom believe, not only that Scotland is subsidised, but that the subsidy should continue. Instead of rising to Dimbleby's bait about the £500, he should have directed him to the two Unionists who haven't enough dignity to want to pay their own way, who are adamant they should continue to live off the backs of English people less well off than themselves. He could have said, "I know we are not being kept by England, but if we were, as a Nationalist, I would tell you to stuff it. Direct your remarks to the two people on the panel who believe they are being kept and, want their demeaning condition to continue." Instead, he chose to pander to a Unionist stereotype - and actually received a round of applause.

The following is directed at Mr Yousaf, so that he might learn what the kilt means, not just to Scots. In February 2003, I was up at the Crieff Hydro, where I kept my horse, and happened to bump into two coachloads of tartan-clad people of all ages. They were all wearing different variations of the same clan tartan - Clan McGregor, my own clan and my middle name. They did not look Scottish and there were several of mixed-race, mainly white/Asian, with the women resplendent in long tartan dresses, tartan shawls and the men in kilts, jackets and several of them with the full plaid. Curious, I asked, "Where are the McGregors going today?" They were all Americans, in Scotland to commemorate the 400 anniversary of the Battle of Glen Fruin, the battle which moved James VI to proscribe Clan Gregor. Delighted I had recognised the tartan, they were even more delighted to just bump into a clan member, still living near the traditional clan territory. For the next 45 minutes, we discussed history, politics and the Clan. Their knowledge of all of them was extensive and their commitment to Scotland and their Scottish heritage absolute. When I took my leave, I was followed by a loud, "McGregor in spite of them".

I am a keen history buff, particularly military history, and have travelled a substantial part of Europe, visiting battle sites. On the 65th anniversary of the D Day landings, my wife, two eldest grandchildren and I visited Normandy. As I wore the kilt, I became a target for countless well-wishers of all nationalities, just to make conversation - and have their photograph taken with "the kiltie". In the car park at Arromanche, we were stopped by a veteran from Elgin, who had stormed Sword Beach with Fraser's Lovat Scouts at the age of eighteen - the same age as my grandson. While we chatted, we heard the pipes being played - badly - a short distance away and out of curiosity, went to see who it was. We discovered two middle-aged men, in full highland regalia, happily marching around, to the delight of the watching crowd. When they stopped I approached them, to find they were French from Amiens, and neither had a word of English. When asked why the pipes and highland dress, they said they had been brought up by their parents on tales of the Scottish soldiers who had been in their town during WW1 and what wonderful men they were. Their explanation was simple, "We love Scotland and the Scots. The kilt is wonderful"

St Mere Eglise, the first town to be liberated by the American Airborn in the early hours of the morning of 6th June 1944, was packed with tourists and American veterans. A French dance band played in the square and people danced and sung, as they waited for the more formal part to begin. Again, I was the target for photographs and conversation, until approached by an Inverness woman who had married a Frenchman and had lived in the town for over twenty years. She insisted I meet two Italians she had met and introduced me to two young students, dressed in the uniform of the Black Watch in WW11. One of them had a set of pipes under his arm and, as he could speak not a word of English, his friend explained their dress. They were both passionate about Scotland and its people, having heard about the presence of the Black Watch during WW11. His knowledge of the Regiment and its history was extensive and when they heard that not only was I born in Perth - home of the Black Watch depot for over 100 years - but that I had worn the Red Hackle, and for a time was in the 6/7th, the battalion which had fought in the Italian campaign, including Cassino, their awe and respect was embarrassing. They lived for the day they could visit Aberfeldy, where the regiment had been raised. They excused themselves, walked to othe centre of the square and the piper started to play - well - Heilan Laddie, the regimental march. Without even a hint of self-consciousness, his partner stood rigidly to attention throughout, holding a perfect salute. The French band stopped playing and the crowd stood in completle silence. These two young Italians, neither of whom had ever set foot in Scotland, standing in a French town, were paying not just respect, but homage to my country and regiment, while the only kilted Scot was a mere spectator. As the march finished, they turned smartly to the right and walked off parade, to thuderous applause.

The road to the American cemetary at Collville St Laurant was blocked with traffic when we approached. As we sat waiting, a pipe band started to pass the car. They were immaculate in Royal Stuart tartan and I stopped one to ask where they were from. To my surprise they were Dutch, every single one of the forty odd of them. Their English was excellent and they were only too happy to explain. They were from Amsterdam and were fascinated with Scotland, which they visited regularly, its people and its history, to such an extent that several of them had studied in Scottish univesities rather than Dutch or other European ones. We talked at length about the political situation in Scotland, particularly when they learned I was a nationalist. My wife and I are great Franco-philes, visiting the country every year, but this was an incredible visit. I have never experienced anything other than friendship and the warmest of welcomes but to see the way in which other nationalities respected Scotland was uplifting to say the least.

Had I given it any thought at the time, I should not have been surprised. As a fully paid up member of the Tartan Army, I have travelled all over Europe, both East and West, with the Scottish team. Each and every trip has confirmed the affection in which we are held. In Dortmund, the local council threw a massive street party on the day of the match, where the two sets of fans joined together, travelled to the match together - we lost - and travelled back together, to carry on partying. In Macedonia, I was presented to a Macedonian family by a fan, given gifts and told it was because we had shown them respect. In Minsk, despite the attitude of the police, I spent a wonderful evening with some economics students, desperate to learn more about us and what we are doing. In Lithuania and Estonia, Norway, France and everywhere else we have been, the Tartan Army has been embraced by the population.

Like any sensible voter, there is expenditure to which I could object, but esablishing trade links and diplomatic and political contacts is not one of them. We will need all of them but our image abroad should make it easy and we are pushing at an open door. I wonder if that is why the Unionists object.

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