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Highlander – not Braveheart – the German image of Scotland

Place branding is worth a lot because it costs a lot to create and maintain. Cities, regions and countries around the world pour taxpayers money into promoting themselves to attract investment.

Germans have a positive,  if romantic, image of Scotland

Germans have a positive,
if romantic, image of Scotland

Scotland is fortunate in having a fundamentally positive image in Germany with brand capital that would be impossible to buy. Unfortunately, though, nothing has been done in Scotland to understand exactly what this image is and how best to capitalize on it. 2014 will be the ideal year to have a go at benefiting from the “free” marketing generated in the German media by the political debate in the UK about Scottish independence.

First, it is crucial to clear away the Scots’ own misconceptions and to see ourselves as others, in this case the Germans, see us. The first myth to explode is the idea that anybody outside of Scotland gives a monkeys whether we invented the television, the telephone or Grand Theft Auto. It is just not relevant. Obviously, as well, the whole tartan thing just passes the Germans by as the Scottish granny factor only applies in the places to which Scots emigrated. Interestingly though, people here have picked up on the myth of the skinflint Scot; but this is because the Germans are great savers themselves so thrift is seen as a really positive attribute.

Germans have a positive (if out-dated) view of Scottish football

Germans have a positive (if out-dated) view of Scottish football

“Plucky braveheart” probably best sums up the image of the Scot in Germany. The film that most connect with Scotland is not “Braveheart” but “Highlander” which appeals to the deeply romantic German soul. And the fact that Sean Connery has a starring role in the film certainly helps.

The “plucky” part comes from 2 sources: an often surprisingly detailed understanding of Scottish history and the centuries of conflict with England and, secondly, from football. Germans love football and, fortunately for us, they haven’t really noticed that the Scottish team doesn’t qualify any more for international competitions. Most have a memory of hard-battling teams from this small nation going out in a blaze of glory and supported by woad-daubed, kilted fans who were always in good spirits – in contrast to English fans.

When I worked for the Scottish Government in the 90’s promoting Scotland for investment by German and Austrian companies we carried out extensive market research to benchmark the location against the competition.

So we asked a few hundred decision-makers within companies about their general impressions of Scotland and also how they saw the country as potential manufacturing location for their business.

Germans like Scotland as a  'wilderness destination'

Germans like Scotland as a
‘wilderness destination’

There was close to zero perception of Scotland as an industrial location with only residual awareness of shipbuilding (“Silicon Glen” was one of the myths that hadn’t made it to Germany). That was the first problem. The second was the fact that many of these German businessmen loved Scotland as a “wilderness” holiday destination and didn’t want to mess it up with their factories. (The Germans still love Scotland and last year spent around £140m on holidays there.)

The good news was that these individuals mostly had a surprisingly definite and thoroughly positive perception of our country as being unspoilt with attractive landscapes and traditions, friendly people and, of course, whisky. In our marketing campaigns for Locate in Scotland we tried very hard to “convert” this positive view into investment pounds but it was a struggle. You can change people’s minds to a certain extent and we did but it is very expensive to achieve. Also, as soon as the campaign is over, they then revert to their default position.

Whisky is a great selling point in the German market

Whisky is a great selling point in the German market

However, the fundamentally positive view in Germany of Scotland and its people continues and, if anything, has increased as a result of improved access to Scotland by way of direct flights from continental Europe. There is, therefore, a tremendous opportunity to capitalise on the goodwill here towards things Scottish.

Manufacturing is no longer a topic of interest – that stays in Germany or moves to China – so what can we sell? Scottish companies desperately need to engage more in foreign markets. 70% of current exports go to England and, whatever the outcome in September, that is not a sustainable situation for a country which is so geographically challenged. And doing business in Europe’s largest and wealthiest market on your doorstep sounds like a reasonably good idea. All sectors have something to offer: from food and drink to financial services to digital start-ups. If Scottish football is no longer able to represent Scotland in Europe then Scottish business has to take on the challenge.

The waterfront at Seattle
Creative Commons

Andrew McDiarmid

Andrew McDiarmid

by Andrew McDiarmid
Owner of Simply Scottish in Seattle

Greetings! I’m Andrew McDiarmid. I was born and raised in Edinburgh in Scotland and emigrated to the States with my family in 1990. I now live and work in Seattle and produce a podcast of music and features called Simply Scottish.

Previously a weekly radio show on radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, it’s now a podcast on iTunes, the Celtic Radio Network, and at www.simplyscottish.com. I’m going to be writing for the Caledonian Mercury, and I thought a good way to introduce myself and get to know you would be to explore with you what the phrase “simply Scottish” means!

SS Podcast Hi-Res Logo 2208x2208Could there be anything more simply Scottish than a dry stane dyke? Found all over Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles, these walls are made of large stones held together without the use of mortar by the compressional force of each interlocking stone. You’ll find them lining driveways, forming boundary walls between fields, and standing as retaining walls in towns and villages.

Actually, a number of things could visually symbolize the words “simply Scottish.” For me, it’s my mother, Samantha. Her personality and character embodied a number of qualities I deem to be simply Scottish: an unshakable belief in God, loyalty to family, an adventurous spirit, unselfish kindness, a no-nonsense attitude, thriftiness, and a healthy dose of humor. She traveled the world and had a 40-year career as a teacher. Her students and friends loved her for these virtues. And I am largely who I am because of her influence.

Some years ago, when Simply Scottish was a radio show airing on various public radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, we commissioned Vincent Rooney, an artist in Scotland, to create a painting called “Simply Scottish.” He painted a small cottage by a burn, nestled at the foot of rolling Scottish hills. The artwork still hangs in the bedroom of my father, my co-host on Simply Scottish during the initial years of its production.

Simply Scottish  Painting by Vincent Rooney

Simply Scottish
Painting by Vincent Rooney

When my father and I chose the name for our show, we did so not only because it employs the memory-enhancing technique of alliteration, but because we wanted to get to the heart of Scotland and being Scottish, past all the hype, stereotype, assumption, and misunderstanding. We want to present Scotland simply and earnestly. We want to let the country’s beauty speak for itself and allow the friendliness and authenticity of Scotland’s people send its own invitation. In true Scottish fashion, we don’t want to boast. We want to welcome people to our land, because we know they will grow to love it and appreciate it in their own fashion and in their own time. And those who are Scottish by birth or who live there will gain new appreciation and insight about this small but mighty nation.

So what do you think embodies the phrase “simply Scottish?” It could be an object, a place, a person, an event, a sound, a taste, or a smell. It won’t be the only thing, but to you, and perhaps to many others, it communicates “simply Scottish.” Beyond hype or stereotype, it is pure and powerful. It is Scotland, distilled.

I will highlight your responses in upcoming posts in the Caledonian Mercury and perhaps build an episode of the podcast around them. If there’s enough response, I’d like to attract the attention of a publisher with the idea of a beautiful coffee table book with pictures and descriptions of the various things that embody the essence of Scotland. Whatever happens, we’ll all have a better idea what Simply Scottish means to Scots and Scotland lovers around the world.

Send me your ideas today!

Join the “simply Scottish” conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #simplyscottish.

By Andrew McDiarmid
If you’re an emigrant from Scotland like me, you’ve already pencilled in a trip to Scotland in the summer or autumn of 2014. If you’re like me, you’ve been seeking out the news coverage on Scottish independence, reading the blogs and perusing the Yes and No camps online. If you’re like me, you feel an excitement rising inside you and a growing need to make your voice heard. You jump at the chance to talk to someone about it, no matter how casual or non-existent his or her interest may be. You feel compelled by something inside, something that grows a little more with every article, debate, comment, campaign ad or reference to something Scottish.

Perhaps you’re not like me. Perhaps you are so distant from your time in Scotland that you’ve grown out of touch or indifferent to daily Scottish affairs. After all, it’s a challenge to live life with one foot in the homeland and one foot in your adopted country. It’s tiring, taxing, and bewildering at times. Perhaps you are so busy and invested in life outside Scotland that you simply have no time to ponder lofty ideals like sovereignty and fiscal autonomy. Depending on where you live, chances are life is very different from your life in Scotland. So why bother? Out of sight, out of mind. Perhaps you don’t even feel you have the right any more to think about Scottish affairs or weigh in on issues important to Scotland. That’s all in your past.

When you move to a new country, your attention and energies get taken up by local and personal affairs – finding and keeping a job, raising a family, building a network of friends and associates, and investing in local interests, politics, and other activities. Who’s got time for the motherland? While the bulk of Scottish issues may pass you by unnoticed, this is different. This isn’t a debate over the progress of Edinburgh’s tram project. This is not a conversation on the financial prospects of the Scottish Premier League. This is much bigger. The Scottish independence debate affects every facet of Scottish life. It touches every person living in and from Scotland. It’s history in the making and will affect the future of Scots for generations to come. As emigrants from Scotland, we must play an active role in the direction of Scotland’s future. We must make time for this. Sure, we left Scotland to pursue a new life. But it is still our homeland, our place of birth, our people, our heritage. Once a Scot, always a Scot, even in Seattle, Bangkok, Sydney, Zurich, Capetown, Los Angeles, or Manitoba.

But does our opinion matter? Even if we add our voice, will it be heard? Will it make any difference? In short, it will only matter if we express it and back it up with action. Although it is unlikely that Scots living abroad will be able to vote in the 2014 referendum, that doesn’t render our participation void. On the contrary, we can play an important role in the future of Scotland if we actively participate in the debate.

How do we do that? Well, the first step is educating yourself. Go beyond your initial knee-jerk reaction to Scottish independence and study the issue. Start by reading Your Scotland, Your Referendum, the Scottish government’s consultation document that explains how the referendum will work. Then start asking questions. What is the issue? Why is it happening now? What are the options? Who are the people in the Yes campaign and why do they seek that option? What about the No campaign? Who’s campaigning for that result and why? What are the pros and cons of each option? What’s at stake? How is the government involved? How are the media responding to and portraying the debate? How does this debate affect the people of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland?

Finding the answers to these and other questions will help you be informed about the debate. Once you’ve established where you stand, you have a responsibility as a Scotsman or Scotswoman to educate others. This is not a debate that will be settled with empty rhetoric, scare tactics or appeals to loyalty, tradition, or history. This debate will be decided by those who are the most objectively informed and the most subjectively dedicated to Scotland’s future and its success as a modern nation.

Who can we educate? As emigrants, we are Scotland’s ambassadors, whether we want to be or not. We represent Scotland to everyone we come in contact with. We can educate our friends, associates and local community on Scottish independence and what it means for Scotland, Britain and the country in which you live. We can submit op-ed articles to local, regional and national newspapers. We can be active and involved with local Scottish groups, ensuring that the independence debate is given fair voice and consideration. We can also educate people living in Scotland. Just over half of Scotland’s electorate voted in the 2011 Scottish parliament elections. Apathy and lack of knowledge about key issues can cause many Scots to forfeit their vote. We can help increase voter turnout for the referendum, allowing a greater percentage of Scotland’s people to make their voice heard in this crucial debate.

One of the tools most useful to the Scottish diaspora is the internet. Thirty years ago, you may well have depended on a benevolent aunt to send a few recent newspapers your way so you could keep up with the news. Or perhaps you gleaned information from the occasional letter or phone call. Not so today. With an internet-connected device, you have almost immediate access to a wealth of information and opinion on daily Scottish affairs. More so, you have a platform with which to interact, debate and comment with people in Scotland and fellow emigrants all over the world.

Both campaigns have active websites to stay up-to-date with events and progress. And in addition to the establishment media, there are new arenas in Scottish journalism that provide a great place to stay informed and get involved. As Stewart Kirkpatrick, the former editor of The Caledonian Mercury, has said: “There has never been a greater need for balanced coverage of Scottish life. The Caledonian Mercury is unique in encouraging all the voices of Scotland to be expressed.”

No matter what side you fall on, the independence debate is too important not to include your voice. Although I certainly lean to one side in the debate, I am far from confident yet on the details. We are talking about changing a political structure that’s over 300 years old. Can Scotland and England have a great, working relationship without being in a political union? In what ways do Scotland, England, and Wales stand to lose or gain either way? Are people afraid of the future? Willing to embrace it? Does our strength as a nation depend on standing as one entity or as independent entities standing together?

Don’t sit back and simply watch the debate unfold. Add your voice. Help fellow Scots answer the most important questions they’re facing in modern history. This is your homeland. Help decide where it’s going.

– Andrew McDiarmid is host of Simply Scottish, a weekly podcast of music and features. He and his family moved to the United States in 1990, living first in Texas before moving to Seattle, Washington, where he currently works as a media relations specialist. Listen to Simply Scottish on iTunes and at www.simplyscottish.com

snppostrI must have written four or five pre-election columns in my quarter-century of journalism – and they’re always a hostage to fortune.

I remember writing something before an election in which “Scotland free by ’93” was offered to the people (which the people then primly rejected). If anyone would like to mortify me with memories of said atrocity, which inflicted upon its readers a sci-fi projection of Scotland in 2033… Well, let’s just hope the digital archives don’t go back that far.

But here we are in 2011, with one vaguely futuristic parliament building under our belts; an anti-dystopian rallying-cry for renewable energy to save Scotland from the worst of the anthropocene; and a column being mostly thumbed out on a device which bears close resemblance to the tricorder of my beloved childhood Star Trek.

I promise to reflect in another 25 years’ time, if I last that long, on my immediate conditions on the eve of a national election. (By that time, I might be literally plugged into something – hopefully something cool and cyborg-y, rather than merely respiratory.)

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Will Scotland be independent by that point? As is often quoted, there’s a steadily increasing, not decreasing, number of nation-states in the world. Like my old Scottish left mentors Neal Ascherson and Tom Nairn would say, it may well be a world of increasing integration and interdependence – where networked capitalism, and a borderless environmental crisis, both demand as much coordinated global action between democracies as possible.

But for a stateless nation like Scotland (and similar to other sub-nations or regions in, say, post-communist Europe), there’s no point in not going for the minimum effective regime of geopolitical agency – meaning the nation-state. You should at least give yourself full sovereignty before you begin to parcel it out to wider frameworks, whether they be Westminster, Nordic, European, corporate, global.

Unless some new version of the Treaty of Westphalia comes along, the nation-state is still the crucial means whereby ordinary citizens can find some democratic purchase, as Nairn might put it, on the juggernaut of modernity – even if it’s only a light touch on the wheel and the brakes, along with many other small hands and feet.

Which brings us back to tomorrow: Scottish election day, 5 May 2011. Having watched far too much political transmedia (web, tweets and TV) over the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by the patterns of convergence that knit together the Scottish parties.

There would seem to be some basic Lego bricks of Scottish society that all agree on. One is that small businesses, whether family-owned community concerns or thrusting young tech start-ups, are the seedbeds of the modern Scottish economy – an “enterprise” culture, whether social or commercial, that’s become a healthy, secular norm of an active, creative Scotland.

Another is that the NHS is totemic, its resources ring-fenced like a sacred cow. I wonder whether this is both an indication of the settled social-democratic will of Caledonia, and an understandable clinging to a service which has to work hard to mitigate far too many wilfully self-destructive physical lifestyles. We may need to further customise the happiness/wellbeing agenda currently gripping the developed world, for a country whose epidemiology is almost the very definition of thrawnness.

And one more component: that orderly streets, visibly and strictly policed, is the prime requirement of public space in Scotland. Funding is easily procured for more bobbies on the beat, armed with customised laws (the Greens honourably excepted). Meanwhile, our collective outdoor expressions of joy are regarded as potential boondoggles in the making (the Homecoming), or cynical machines for printing sporting money (Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games), or scenes for young male pathology (the Old Firm clashes, Kelvingrove Park on the day of the royal wedding).

Something in me always curls up and dies when any of the Scottish parties go heavy on the law-and-order agenda – as if there’s an element in the Scottish psyche which always remains a Jekyll, fearing its inner Hyde. This meshes all too neatly with the supposed “excellence” of our crime-fiction industry – a bunch of narrative carrion crows on Scotland’s many deprived and distorted urban/suburban realms. There are too many streets and localities in this land where long-term structural deprivation meets what Ascherson once described to me as a punitive “lovelessness” in Scottish daily life: a seeping suffusion of anger and ill-will, ensnaring both accused and accuser.

Tomorrow, whatever arrangement of parties takes the helm of the super-powered milk-van that is devolved Scotland, it would be good if this great concertation of policy could be bent towards the gentling and beatifying of Scottish civic life; the increase of understanding and civility across all political and cultural divisions. We have ever tougher times ahead: and as well as the national powers to cope with them, we need more grace and dignity in this country’s daily dealings, to lubricate the fine gears of cooperation. We need to cultivate conviviality in this often unnecessarily glum wee country.

So many times in these weeks, as the party political biliousness inflates to maximum size, I remember Brecht’s caution to all radicals and activists in his great poem, To Those Born Later:

Hatred, even of meanness,
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not ourselves be friendly.

Having said that, I enjoyed the SNP‘s generally positive campaign. If you know anything of the culture around their election machine, you’ll know that there are cadres of extremely capable and idealistic young Scots involved. They’re very much of the Net Generation, some of them returnees from plum jobs overseas. And they are desperate to apply their expertise and passion to the benefit of this country. You meet them, and it’s what you’ve always hoped for, as a supporter of Scottish independence: that the brightest and best would apply themselves to progressing their country. I hope they get their result.

And as those who read these columns might have gathered, I also like the Scottish Greens. In terms of both the cautionary case of a worsening climate, and the positive case for a new, low-carbon economy and lifestyle, the popular consciousness is ready, and their time has come. I only hope – as I’ve been trying to suggest in the heady uplands of Scottish think-blogs – that if the “independence majority” of SNP/Green seats appears, both sides can graciously (that word again) see the opportunity for a real moment of transformation in Scottish society, requiring proper negotiation on both sides.

As for the Lib Dems, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour… Well, I hope that even they might eventually see that a Scotland whose macro-powers are pulled ever higher up the ratchet will give them an opportunity to let their ideologies and traditions flourish.

Vote early, fellow Scots. And vote hopefully.

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Sir Sean Connery <em>Picture: USAF Reserve Command</em>

Sir Sean Connery Picture: USAF Reserve Command

By Elizabeth McQuillan

Themed this year as “Country Chic”, the Dressed to Kilt event in New York City on 5 April has the Scottish diaspora proudly marking their territory. This unique show celebrates all aspects of Caledonian culture, from fabric and fashion to art, music and whisky.

According to the organisers, the 2011 theme draws its origins from the world of country music, particularly noting its Scottish roots and origins. Watch this year’s catwalk “rock with country chic”, as designers blur the lines between Haute and Highland, rustic and urban, while incorporating modern knits, refined tweeds and classic tartans with a stylish and western glam.

Possibly the highest-profile Scottish event outside of the UK and the most prestigious Scottish fashion show in the world, Dressed to Kilt showcases a range of fashions, from traditional kilts to designer haute couture fit for royalty.

Since Prince W and Princess-in-Waiting Kate eschewed St Andrews for his nuptials, perhaps they should take a look at what’s on offer and sashay down the aisle in designer tartan and tweed as a nod to their Scottish love-in? Certainly one of Kate’s favourite designers, Katherine Hooker, will be displaying her wares.

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As well as showcasing cutting-edge fashion from some of Scotland’s talent young designers, some familiar mainstream fashion houses will offer their Scotland-inspired designs

This year’s show features looks from top fashion houses, including a special tribute to the late Alexander McQueen and designs from Vivian Westwood, Hillary Rohde, Jaggy Nettle, Angela Cassidy, Holland & Sherry, as well as Johnstons of Elgin, Joey D, Lochcarron of Scotland, Michael Kaye Couture, Sandra Murray, Gwen Russell – and the list goes on.

Being a glitzy fashion feast, Scottish-themed, with whisky flowing courtesy of Glenlivet (they sponsor the event), there will be no shortage of A-ish list celebrities embracing the free swally. Expect host Sir Sean and Lady Connery in full regalia, as well as the Trumps, singer/songwriter Amy Grant, actors Matt Bomer and Matthew Settle, as well as a great many country-and-western singers.

Hosting the event and representing Scotland, Sir Sean had a few words to say last year with understated enthusiasm: “I am told that this year’s Dressed to Kilt [which was themed 'Mad for Scotland'] is looking to be the largest and most successful Dressed to Kilt ever.” Oh well, that’s good to know. This year he will be hoping to raise more money as his granddaughter, Saskia, takes to the runway.

To be fair, Connery has been doing good things for Scotland, having set up a non-profit organisation – Friends of Scotland – to advance contemporary Scottish interests in the United States. Proceeds from Dressed to Kilt will benefit the Paralyzed Veterans of America and our own Erskine Hospital.

For a paltry $8,000 you can have a VIP Highlander table for ten, with VIP passes for pre-show VIP reception, VIP tickets for the fashion show, VIP post-show party tickets and an exclusive area with open bar. They do accept Paypal, and I’m up for it if there is a (free) spare VIP seat for my VIP bum.

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<em>Picture: Zenera</em>

Picture: Zenera

November has more than its fair share of celebratory events. It catches the tail end of Hallowe’en, it rejoices in the Guy Fawkes festivities which seem to go on throughout the entire month and it ends with St Andrew’s night. Of course, there is a sadness to November in that contains Remembrance Day, but, for the most part, November is a party month.

Surely, therefore, we should think of November as a cheery month. Not so. Quite a few people regard November as the very epitome of misery and a great many Scots would describe it as dreich. The “ch” is pronounced as in Scots loch or German ach.

Dreich has several meanings when applied to weather, including wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary, miserable or any combination of these. It sums up November to a T, probably because we tend to concentrate on the wet, bleak weather in November, rather than on the revelries.

The word dreich has its origins in Middle English and, indeed, once was a feature of English as well as Scots. It is now obsolete in general English, although, like several other Scots words, it is still to be found in Northern England. Dreich, however, is unusual in that people living in the leafy suburbs of the south have been known to use it. Usually, Scots words do not reach that far. Should we regard this as a success story for the Scots language?

The original basic meaning of dreich was protracted or long-drawn-out. From this developed the meanings tedious or wearisome. People have traditionally associated both of these meanings with sermons. In the days when most people still went to church, those ministers who liked the sound of their own voices would deliver very long and uninteresting orations from the pulpit. These sermons were frequently dubbed dreich. No wonder people introduced a happy-clappy element to services.

Of course, not only sermons can be dreich. Anything lengthy that bores you stiff can also be dreich. Obviously this includes something written or spoken, such as lectures, after-dinner speeches, reports, plays, etc, but it can also be extended to such things as journeys, tasks, football matches, etc.

People can also be dreich, and in more than one sense. Boring, dull, lack-lustre people can be described as dreich. As you might expect, depressed, gloomy people can also be so described. However, dreich people can also be slow or unpunctual. Specifically, they may be slow in paying their bills, leaving their creditors less than happy. You have to think twice before you call someone dreich.

Incidentally, if someone is “dreich a drawin” or “dreich in drawing” it means that they are very slow when it comes to making a decision. Such a delayed decision was often related to a romantic relationship. Someone who was dreich in drawing showed a distinct reluctance to propose marriage even after long years. Nowadays, we refer to such a person as a commitment phobe.

A dreich task, as I have mentioned, can be a boring, long-lasting one. It can also mean a difficult or puzzling one or one that requires close attention. As you can see there is more to dreich than meets the eye. It goes from dry sermon to wet day with much in between.

I was wondering if I had been too harsh on November, but no. A quick look out the window this November evening tells me that it is damp, dank, dull, dreary, dismal, and depressing — dreich in fact.

kiltr websiteTwo daughters of the Scottish diaspora came home the other day, under very different clouds. Shining out of Wednesday’s papers were the features of Shirley Manson, the Edinburgh born-and-forged lead singer of US indie titans Garbage, giving solid advice to music students in Paisley: “there’s two things you have to accept in this industry – poverty, and a huge element of failure”.

Elsewhere, a different measure of poverty and failure, but also a tear-inducing celebration of a life nobly lived: the Lewis funeral of the 36-year old aid worker Linda Norgrove, killed in the course of a raid in her kidnappers in Afghanistan. The moment was a beautifully mixter-maxter of elements – a humanist service, with the coffin passed along hundreds of mourners in best Hebridean tradition, under lowering grey skies.

Two emotionally-contrasting scenes of confident, globally-minded Scotswomen – one sparking the fires of creative aspiration to the very heights, the other kindling a flame of compassion and service in the most demanding of circumstances. The Scottish nationalist matriarch Winnie Ewing once coined the snappiest of slogans about the desire for nation-state independence: Stop the world – we want to get on.

True, I agree: I’ll vote for that. But stories like these make you realise that we’re already on the whirl, at least: the Scottish diaspora as a vast scattering of capable humans across the entrepots, trade routes and trouble-spots of this planet – a scattering that has been going on for many centuries, containing a multitude of dramas right across the human spectrum.

I’ve been thinking about the relations between homeland and global adventure as a result of a consulting gig I’ve just undertaken – an advisor with a new social network aimed at serving the Scottish diaspora in all its manifestations, called Kiltr.

Yes, the joke is double-edged: as well as being a Jockular version of what Facebook and LinkedIn are already doing, it’s also a tool for balancing the various info-streams of contemporary living. But the question of what the diaspora actually means for Scotland, what kind of a resource it is for the nation, is a fascinating one, no matter the medium that services it.

In September the Scottish government outlined its Diaspora Engagement Plan, a robust document that delivered effective statistics (“20% of the Scottish-born population live outside of Scotland, and estimates put Scotland’s international Diaspora population at around 40 million”) and many useful categories (there are, apparently, six types of diaspora Scots: Reverse, Returning, New, Lived, Ancestral and Affinity).

There is a battery of networking initiatives already in place – some capitalising on the impact of the Homecoming and the prospect of the Commonwealth Games, some more business- and research-oriented. And there are also some hearth-warming ambitions for diaspora policy. They’re aiming to return flows of capital – whether financial, intellectual or culture – from successful Scots around the world. But they also want to create a “community of mind”, using the expected digital and convivial means, whereby an “idea” of the country can engage Scots-lovers (as well as Scots-born or -descended) in the fate of the nation going forward – what the document calls “reverse” and “affinity” Scots.

All very Panglossian, and with the orotund uplift of messrs Russell, Salmond and the rest of the SNP expertocracy resounding through it (which is not necessarily a bad thing). But in a search for more context, I asked the Holyrood office to send me a DVD of the Scottish Diaspora Forum held at the Parliament building in July 2009.

By far the most interesting contribution was historian Tom Devine’s keynote on the history of disapora – and particularly on the “intellectual honesty”, rather than “myth and Romanticism” (as he put it), that should inform any such “community of the mind”.

On the upside, the 800 year constancy of the Scottish disapora – a continuous outflow of capable chancers, fetching up everywhere in Europe but particularly in Poland – gives an explanation for the Scottish Enlightenment which doesn’t just rely on the benefits of Union. Our long-standing trade in European ideas – indicated by the great medieval University of Paris having 19 Scots rectors since its founding – shows a deeper grounding.

On the downside, our most notable historic feature of diaspora has been what Devine called “men of violence” – the mercenaries much in demand during Europe’s bloody 17th century wars, or the “ethnic garrison” of Presybterian Scots imported to Ulster in succeeding centuries.

And as he rightly pointed out, we have to reckon with the “very-difficult-to-imagine hegemony” of Glasgow over the Maryland and Virginia tobacco plantations, or of Scots throughout the Caribbean colonies and other outposts of empire and exploitation: a “darker impact” of diaspora that should not be mitigated. All those Scots names in the Jamaican phonebook, and not there by choice either.

Yet we can make a return to our two inspiring diaspora Scotswomen at the top by considering Devine’s central point: his “paradox of Scottish emigration”. Why does the record show that even when Scotland was the very height of modernity – the second richest nation on earth at the peak of Empire – our flows of emigration were as constant and enormous as they ever were?

The historian’s answer lies in the sheer extremes of Scottish development. A lingering Reformation commitment to mass education and skilled trades, combined with the bitter economic hardship of many at the sharp end of industrial and agricultural revolutions, meant that many took flight to new lands – but armed with the confidence that their skills and talents could flourish.

Devine closed by suggesting that this weight of history might to some degree overdetermine the current global image of Scotland, obscuring the recent transformations of Scottish society: “the Scotland of 1950 is much closer to 1850 than it is to today… We need to demonstrate to the diaspora that, if many left the country because of negative forces, there’s been a vast improvement”.

Though Shirley Manson’s training ground was more Miss Selfridge and punk clubs than Linda Norgrove’s degree in environmental studies from Aberdeen University, both would seem to be driven by the “positive forces” fuelling Scottish disapora. They have used their modern upbringing in this developed, sophisticated country as a springboard for personal ambition – enabling a very familiar kind of Scottish wandering across the globe, but still with evident connections to the homeland (however happily or tragically expressed).

Part of a plan of to engage our diaspora would have to be the creation of platforms that curate such stories – sexy and cool, tragic and noble, and every other kind. These platforms would bring the grand ambitions of Scottish global progress down to the level of the everyday, the idealistic and the quixotic. And let’s not forget, as Devine would remind us, that our military diaspora is still kicking its boots in the dusts of foreign lands. At the very least, these “global Scots” (and the question of their deployment, under what sovereign power) should not be excluded from the conversation.

If we steer our discussion about the diaspora by the lights of “intellectual honesty”, it won’t just be a cosy place, filled with the cultural consolations of clan and tartanry, or of indie and pop culture (the delightful musings gathered by the emigre website Dear Scotland). Amidst the joys of pleasant connection and mutual support that the modern world of communication affords, sparks will and should fly. To stay “on-kilter” implies a necessary dynamism in the first place.

– For more on Scottish affairs, read Pat Kane at the Thoughtland ideas-blog.

The best person to give advice is often an outsider with inside knowledge. The Global Scots Network is a group of around 900 people who are either of Scots descent or who have left Scotland and made a real success elsewhere in the world. Such a person is Bob McDowell of Microsoft. Today, he sounds pure American — but he’s proud of his Scottish roots and wants to help steer this country in new, better directions. He’s in Scotland at the moment and David Calder interviewed him.

A small dog: origin of nyaff?

A small dog: origin of nyaff?

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Those of you who regularly use insults and have grown weary of bauchle might consider turning to nyaff for a change. Nyaff, which is pronounced as it is spelt, with the y being sounded as a consonant like the y in yellow or yoke, can be used, like bauchle, as a general term of insult. Anyone who gets on your nerves, anyone of whom you wildly disapprove or anyone whom you consider to be worthless or good-for-nothing can be described as a nyaff.

However, the use of this insult was originally restricted to a small, puny and generally insignificant person, especially one who was conceited and impudent and given to senseless chatter. It could also be applied to a spoilt, bad-mannered child. When it was used of things, it meant something small of its kind, often something of little or no value.

Nyaff could also be used to describe the impudent, cheeky talk of a forward child. In addition, it could be used to refer to the yapping or yelping of a small dog. This could have something to do with the derivation of the insult. In origin, the word nyaff may be imitative of the noise made by an excitable small dog, such as a terrier.

The word nyaff started life off as a verb. It had several meanings, including to chatter meaninglessly on, to harp on about something, or to snap at each other when arguing. Used of a small dog, it meant to yelp or yap. Rarer meanings include to work ineffectually without making much effort, to be idle or to waste time. It could also mean to walk with very short steps.

There are some adjectives that nyaff seems to attract and you can use these to add emphasis or strength to your original insult. One of these is shilpit which shares with nyaff suggestions of physical weakness and lack of stature. The other is shauchlin or shauchlie. What does that mean? Watch this space.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

by Betty Kirkpatrick

<em>Picture: yugenro </em>

Picture: yugenro

The Scots word shilpit, which I have just written about, is used to refer to someone who lacks a strong physique, but what of those who lack strength of character or purpose? In Scots, they can be described as fushionless, pronounced so that the first element of the word rhymes with cushion.

Fushionless people lack backbone or, in Scots, smeddum (see previous article). They are deficient in vigour, drive and initiative. All in all, they are rather ineffectual and not the kind of people you want to have around you in a crisis. Obviously, fushionless is far from being a compliment, but the word is sometimes used with a touch of sympathy, as though the speaker acknowledges that the fushionless person cannot help being that way.

Originally, fushionless was used to describe weakness of body, rather than weakness of character. People who had been ill and who were suffering from a lack of energy or stamina might have been described as fushionless. The word could also be used to mean numb or lacking in a sense of feeling.

Fushionless can also be used with reference to food and drink. Originally, it was used to describe food that did not provide enough nourishment, such as much of the fast food today. Then it came to be used to refer to food, such as fruit or porridge, or drink, such as wine, tea or beer, that was tasteless or insipid. Scots seems to have several words with such a meaning, including one of the meanings of wersh and shilpit (see previous articles). Either we are in the habit of eating and drinking the wrong kind of food for our taste-buds or we are ultra-critical.

Not surprisingly fushionless can also mean dull, unimaginative and uninspired. Thus, an after-dinner speech can be fushionless as can a novel, a poem or a dramatic performance of some kind.

It was the plant world that first gave us fushionless. The first meaning of the word was lacking sap and withered, like plants which have gone unwatered in a period of extraordinarily dry weather. Fushionless, which has several alternative spellings, including fooshionless and fusionless, is derived from the noun fushion.

Fushion originally meant sap, succulence or an element of nourishment. It then went on to have meanings corresponding to those of fushionless, such as physical strength, energy, effectiveness, strength of character, etc. Fushion has its origins in an Old Scots word foisoun meaning plenty or abundance and has connections with Old French foison and Latin fusio, an outpouring.

People who are labelled fushionless have one great advantage in life. No one ever asks them to do anything on the assumption that they will mess it up. It could be that they are smarter than we give them credit for.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.