Here's my latest column for the Caledonian Mercury - noting the conjunction in one morning's Scottish papers of two brilliant young women of the Scottish diaspora - joyously Shirley Manson from Garbage, and tragically Linda Norgrove's funeral in Lewis. Two wandering Scots, illustrating each side of the contradictions and paradoxes of Scottish diaspora. All comments welcomed.
Two 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.