Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

What is the appeal of Scottish identity?

Tartan

By Andy McFarlane
BBC News

For the past 10 months thousands of people of Scottish descent have been heeding a call to return "home" for a visit. What is the appeal of the Scottish identity?

Tartan, shortbread, haggis and whisky...

Some of the stereotypes might make the average Scot cringe.

However, when 47,000 people from at least 40 countries gathered for the world's largest clan gathering in Edinburgh in July, many revelled in such "traditional" offerings.

Among them were Americans, Canadians, Kiwis and Aussies, who donned tartan and blew pipes in an outpouring of national pride usually reserved for matches at Murrayfield.

The Gathering, at Holyrood Park, was one of the highlights of Homecoming Scotland, a festival marking the 250th anniversary of poet Robert Burns's birth.

Beginning on the eve of his birthday - 25 January or Burns night - and backed by £5.5m in state funding, it saw 112 events including May's Whisky Month, a Caledonian Canal flotilla and a diaspora forum. Hundreds more were organised by communities.

Karyn Dallimore shot-putting in front of Castle Eilean Donan
Highlander location Castle Eilean Donan was a thrill for Karyn Dallimore

As Scotland marks St Andrew's Day on Monday, and the Scottish government outlines plans that could lead to a referendum on independence, events are taking place across Scotland bringing down the curtain on a memorable 10 months for those who took part in Homecoming.

Among them was Karyn Dallimore, 45, who travelled from her native Canada, to take part in the Masters World Championships at the Inverness Highland Games.

While tossing a caber and throwing a weight over a bar are often caricatured in the UK, events across the Atlantic can attract 40,000-strong crowds.

But for Mrs Dallimore, vice president of Pacific Northwest Scottish Association of Heavy Events, the pull of Scotland was not merely the chance to take home the six medals she won.

"I feel such a strong connection to Scotland. Growing up in Nova Scotia, the Celtic traditions of food, music and language are all around," says the software technician. "If you open the phone book, 95% of the names are Scottish and Irish."

'Missing link'

Like many in North America, Mrs Dallimore is driven by a burning desire to trace her roots. Her father was adopted and after he died eight years ago, she discovered his biological mother's family had emigrated from Scotland in 1915.

"I don't know which area they belong to or which clan I'm from. It's like I'm missing part of who I am," says Mrs Dallimore, promising to revisit Scotland as soon as she learns her family name.

As a volunteer with the Scottish Genealogy Society in Edinburgh, Alison Moffat helps visitors like Mrs Dallimore to trace their ancestors.

The group's stall at the Gathering was inundated with visitors who wanted help to "put flesh on the bones" of their family history.

"Many have heard of the Clearances [when 18th and 19th century landlords forced Highland folk from their homelands] and want to know if their family was involved," she says.

There was a real sense of community and people feeling released to express their Scottishness
Musician Pat Kane

While some may roll their eyes at hearing tartan-clad Americans claim to be descendants of clan chiefs, Mrs Moffat insists their interest is not usually "cosmetic".

"I find it quite touching that people are genuinely interested, " she says. "Some of them perhaps have slightly way-out ideas about Scotland. They must be terribly disappointed that we don't all go around in kilts and swathed in tartan from head-to-toe."

Another motivation is the perception many in the new world have of their countries' lack of history, in comparison with Scotland's emotive past, she says.

The country's wild scenery, tales of persecution and Jacobite rebellions help fuel this romantic image which, according to Dr Jonathan Hearn, has been helped along by Hollywood - Mel Gibson's Braveheart and Christopher Lambert's Highlander.

A specialist in national identity at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Hearn says there are good reasons why foreigners are drawn to Scotland over the rest of the UK.

"Scottish and Irish ancestry in the US is preserved as a distinct ethnicity, whereas Englishness never was - it invisibly blends into being American."

'Afternoon tea'

Englishness means "Windsor Palace and afternoon tea", he says, adding that foreigners struggle to distinguish it from being British.

So, as Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond publishes a white paper he describes as the "prelude" to a referendum on independence, have the celebrations been symbolic of - or even provoked - a resurgence in nationalistic sentiment?

Musician at the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival
Traditional music has played a key part in the celebrations

For Hue and Cry vocalist and pro-independence activist Pat Kane, they certainly boosted Scots' collective self-confidence and "pushed at the door" of sovereignty.

Nowhere more was this apparent than at the Vogrie Festival, where he sang in a country park outside Edinburgh, he says.

"There was a real sense of community and people feeling released to express their Scottishness. It brought out all the various strands of Scottish culture in music, cuisine and art."

For Kane, Homecoming fomented a natural desire to assert Scotland's distinct qualities and outlook - one already demonstrated in the formulation of policy independently from Westminster.

The ruling SNP lacks the necessary majority to push any referendum bill through and Dr Hearn argues that polling data shows "no great push" towards independence.

Kane, however, takes a longer-term view. He says a mature debate about independence - one that acknowledges how the old British Empire benefited Scotland - is needed.

He sees regular cultural celebrations contributing to the process by strengthening links with the diaspora.

"My only fear is that Homecoming is regarded as a one-year event and not one seen as something to take place over 10 years," he adds.

Marie Christie says Homecoming's legacy can be seen in the appetite for a repeat - 92% among event managers.

Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have also signed up for information about future Scottish events.

So, if economic troubles prevented many from visiting this year, hopes are high they will make it "home" in the future.


Below is a selection of your comments.

Because being Scottish rocks! We're a small country with a disproportionately big influence on the world and have lots to be proud of.
Frances, Edinburgh

Americans will never learn to be Scottish, until they start to enjoy misery.
Emily, Edinburgh, Scotland

It's no wonder people are proud to be Scottish; the Scots have travelled and populated most of the world. They have been responsible for many of the world's most important inventions. They have fought and died with glory in many battles and they have resisted invasion throughout history. "The blood is strong" for all Scots.
John McMinn, Barnet, Herts

It's not an appeal to me, it's what I am. I've lived in different places, but my Mum was from Glasgow and my Dad played the bagpipes even though he was only of Scots descent(half English)but I have the wrong voice, I sound like a Londoner but I wear a kilt (Lamont). The story of Scotland, of the clearances, of the struggle to be free, being forced out to start again, all over the world, is one of real grit and backbone, it's what makes the Scots intelligent, inventive and fun. That's why people want to associate themselves with us, because we're brilliant.
Dave, London, UK

Why does everyone (ie Dr Hearn University of Edinburgh) conveniently forget the Welsh distinct ethnicity abroad. After all we suffered the same the same as our Celtic cousins and have the same issues with route and origin chasers visiting Wales and seeing themselves as of welsh origin and not British/English. Plus we have kept our language and have a distinct cultural difference to England, more community than capitalism.
Dean, Cardiff

My mother's parents were Scottish, so if I wanted, I could claim to belong to the clans.
But I don't.
Part of my heritage is Scottish for sure, but I am not Scottish. I was born in England and therefore I am English. I have no need or desire to claim to be Scottish, why should I? Nor do I understand the need or desire to claim to be of a nationality other than the one where I was born. My non-comprehension is greater in those cases where 2nd, 3rd, or even more generational gaps exist.
Lindsay (N.B. a male Lindsay, if proof of my Scottishness be required), New York

What's the appeal of the Scots? Foreign types find the Scottish accent very attractive.
Susan, Wellington, New Zealand

Being Scottish, Irish or Welsh is encouraged as "national pride". Being English is frowned upon as being racist. Displaying the flag of St. George is discouraged in England, whereas flying the flag of St's. Patrick, Andrew or David is actively encouraged in the respective parts of the United Kingdom. Perhaps this double standard is the main cause of the English not being so pushy about their nationalist pride as their more lowly neighbours, who are all conquered peoples who feel the need to supplant their inferiority complexes with misplaced national pride.
Gordon Clifford, Susquehanna, PA, USA

Is this a celebration or a pretentious and patronising event forced upon the true, indigenous populous of Scotland? Whatever the case, it speaks volumes about people all over the world seeking a 'grounding' in their roots during these times of uncertainty. What is quite vulgar is the mismatch between rich, moneyed people from other industrialised nations who spend a lot of money to attend such an event to sample 'the simple life' and connect with their supposed ancestors. Get a clue! I just hope the hotels and everyone else up in Scotland made a lot of money out of this pretentious event.
Dan, London, UK

I think there should be a UK-wide referendum on Scottish independence. I'd vote for Scottish independence (I'm a Yorkshireman) as I believe the Union actually weakens our position in the world and dilutes our cultures behind a rather English 'Britishness'. Even arch-Scot Gordon Brown is guilty of belittling his own origins at times. Furthermore, and on an entirely selfish political point, we'd have no more poor legislation visited upon England and Wales which is passed only with the support of Scottish MPs.
Darren Hill, York, UK



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