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Homecoming ends on a high note

PHOTO: Andrew Cowan, Scottish Parliament
HARRY MCGRATH addresses a large audience at the closing reception of “This Is Who We Are” exhibition in the Scottish Parliament on St. Andrew’s night. Looking on are Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond (left) and the Parliament Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson.

PHOTO: Andrew Cowan, Scottish Parliament
VANCOUVER’S Todd Wong the creator of Gung Haggis Fat Choy with Right Honourable George Reid, former presiding officer of the Scottish parliament.

PHOTO: Graeme Murdoch
LINDA ABERDEEN, the president of the Calgary Highland Games travelled from Canada and presented the presiding officer and first minister with authentic white cowboy stetsons.

PHOTO: Andrew Cowan, Scottish Parliament
Graeme Murdoch and Harry McGrath chat with Claude Boucher, Canada’s Deputy High Commissioner and Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond before the reception in the Scottish parliament.

By HARRY McGRATH

Homecoming Scotland, the Scottish Government’s initiative to encourage “affinity” Scots to travel to Scotland and celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, is over.

The programme launched on Burns’ Day last January and finished on St. Andrew’s Day at the end of November. It was book-ended, in other words, by the “heaven-taught ploughman” and a more traditional representative of the higher spheres.

For reasons that are not entirely clear (even to me) I found myself close to the action as Homecoming wound down.

First of all, I took part in a panel discussion on “The Scottish Diaspora: Present and Future” with Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, former First Minister Henry McLeish, and Professor Cairns Craig of The Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen University. Joan MacAlpine of the Sunday Times newspaper chaired us in a packed committee room in the Scottish Parliament.

Homecoming has stimulated many similar discussions – too many according to some commentators.

My own oft-expressed view is that too many is better than too few which was essentially the case before Homecoming. Scotland has a lot of catching up to do to reach the degree of Diaspora engagement achieved by many other countries: Ireland, for example.

The discussion got off to a flying start with Professor Craig’s suggestion that the Scots outside of Scotland are not a Diaspora at all but a Xeniteia.

Diaspora, he argued, is suggestive of an involuntary scattering and has, at its heart, the desire to return to the homeland once conditions change.

Xeniteia, on the other hand, contains no intention of returning but instead builds bridges with the homeland from outside it.

The difference between Diaspora and Xeniteia may seem like a rather esoteric point, but it is not the first time the word Diaspora has been questioned in its application to the Scots.

Some believe that Diaspora is simply wrong – the Scots just emigrated. Historian Ted Cowan argues that the biblical notion of Diaspora, as God’s punishment for disobedience, cannot be related to the Scots.

In the latter point, I certainly concur. If there was a punishment associated with the town I once migrated to Canada from, it was on those who had to stay.

Professor Craig believes that accepting the fact that Scots furth (outside) of Scotland are a Xeniteia and not a Diaspora would help stimulate the creation of Scottish Studies Centres internationally where now they are few and, in the case of the United States, none at all.

The Scottish Government, he says, should help set up such centres. They will strengthen links between expatriate Scots and their homeland and encourage increased tourism to Scotland. The idea received an immediate and positive response from a Scottish Government minister. We await developments.

Two days later, the serious panel discussion gave way to celebration. The reception for our “This is Who We Are” photography exhibition took place in the lobby of the Scottish Parliament on St. Andrew’s Night.

The reception was the last event of the 400 plus that made up Homecoming and boasted a kenspeckle (well-known) line up.

The First Minister Alex Salmond spoke and expressed himself particularly interested in the link we had developed between Banff in his Scottish constituency and Banff, Alberta.

He was followed by Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson and Claude Boucher, Canada’s Assistant High Commissioner to Britain.

The audience included some Canadians who had walked 700 yards down the Royal Mile from their homes in Edinburgh and others who had travelled more than 7,000 kilometres just to be there.

In the latter category were three members of an Inuit Nation delegation, Dennis MacLeod, born in Helmsdale, Sutherland, and now resident of Victoria; Linda Aberdeen, the president of the Calgary Highland Games; and the irrepressible Todd Wong from Vancouver, creator of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy phenomenon.

Todd made an immediate impression with his “fusion” outfit of Chinese silks and tartan kilt. At the end of the evening, Linda melded two other cultures when she presented Stetsons from the city of Calgary to the first minister and the presiding officer.

As Bacchus took hold of my system, Todd’s peerless outfit began to function like a kaleidoscope. This seemed a decent enough symbol for the synthesis that was going on all over the Parliament lobby. Homecoming had ended alright, but perhaps something else was just beginning.

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