The Scot­tish di­as­pora ex­plained from the top down

SCOTS Heritage Magazine - - Contents - Words John King Bel­las­sai Il­lus­tra­tion Bob De­war

When it comes to un­der­stand­ing how the Scot­tish di­as­pora in the USA is or­gan­ised, our friends in Scot­land tend to roll their eyes and say it’s all hope­lessly chaotic. In fact, when viewed from the top down, it is all fairly log­i­cal.

In Democ­racy in Amer­ica, pub­lished in 1835, the French writer and trav­eller Alexis de Toc­queville wrote of his trav­els in the coun­try at a time when west­ward ex­pan­sion and Jack­so­nian democ­racy were trans­form­ing the young United States. In the process, De Toc­queville iden­ti­fied one of the unique as­pects of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, the role played by vol­un­tary pri­vate as­so­ci­a­tions in so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic af­fairs. De Toc­queville thought that through the com­ing to­gether of peo­ple for a mu­tual pur­pose, Amer­i­cans were able to over­come self­ish de­sires, thus mak­ing for an ac­tive and vi­brant civil so­ci­ety.

De Toc­queville’s ob­ser­va­tions re­main as true to­day as they were two cen­turies ago. And this is cer­tainly the case with re­gard to the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Scot­tish di­as­pora in Amer­ica.

At the na­tional level, dat­ing back to the mid-1970s, there is The Scot­tish Coali­tion, USA, which is a loose con­sor­tium of seven her­itage-ori­ented na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, each a not-for-profit char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion. These in­clude the Amer­i­can-Scot­tish Foun­da­tion (ASF), the Cale­do­nian Foun­da­tion, Scot­tish Her­itage USA (SHUSA), the Liv­ing Legacy of Scot­land, the Scot­tish-Amer­i­can Mil­i­tary So­ci­ety (SAMS), the As­so­ci­a­tion of Scot­tish Games & Festivals (ASGF) and the Coun­cil of Scot­tish Clans & As­so­ci­a­tions (COSCA).

The ASF is the old­est, founded in 1956 by Lord Mal­colm Dou­glas-Hamil­ton and his Amer­i­can wife, as a bridge be­tween the peo­ples of Scot­land and Amer­ica. The New York City-based ASF puts on cul­tural pro­grammes, as well as co­or­di­nat­ing the An­nual Tar­tan Day Pa­rade.

Most of the other six Coali­tion mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tions were founded in the 1970s. The Cale­do­nian Foun­da­tion spe­cialises in sup­port­ing the per­form­ing arts in Scot­land, such as Scot­tish Opera and the Theatre Royal in Glas­gow, and spe­cial projects such as the restora­tion of Ab­bots­ford. SHUSA works in part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land and her­itage or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The Liv­ing Legacy of Scot­land, based in Washington, DC, has an ed­u­ca­tional mis­sion to pro­mote a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the con­tri­bu­tions made by Scots and Scot­tish-Amer­i­cans. Mem­ber­ship in SAMS is for Amer­i­cans who serve or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The ASGF rep­re­sents the High­land games or­gan­i­sa­tions scat­tered across the coun­try, of which there are over 75. COSCA is the na­tional pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion for the clan so­ci­eties in Amer­ica.

At the lo­cal level across Amer­ica, there are close to a hun­dred St. An­drew’s so­ci­eties. All are in­de­pen­dent of each other, but share a com­mon mis­sion.

Side by side with the St. An­drew’s so­ci­eties in cities and towns across the coun­try are a plethora of Cale­do­nian clubs and Robert Burns so­ci­eties. Some of these clubs date back to the mid-19th cen­tury.

With the ad­vent of the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia, it is easy to iden­tify and con­tact any of these or­gan­i­sa­tions from over­seas, as well as from any­where in the States. All but the small­est have web­sites, many have a Face­book page and can be fol­lowed on Twit­ter. Most are staffed by vol­un­teers who serve out of that same sense of so­cial com­mit­ment iden­ti­fied al­most two hun­dred years ago by the vis­it­ing De Toc­queville.

No dis­cus­sion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Scot­tish Di­as­pora in Amer­ica would be com­plete with­out men­tion­ing the Friends of Scot­land Cau­cuses in the U.S. Congress – one in the Se­nate, the other in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Founded in 2004, the House Cau­cus is by far the more ac­tive, with over 50 mem­bers of Congress from both par­ties signed up. It hosts vis­its from del­e­ga­tions of MPs and MSPs, and on oc­ca­sion sends del­e­ga­tions of its own mem­bers to Scot­land. In April each year, the House Cau­cus spon­sors an an­nual Tar­tan Day re­cep­tion, open to the pub­lic, to cel­e­brate the na­tional Tar­tan Day hol­i­day, which is em­bod­ied in stand­ing con­gres­sional res­o­lu­tions.

John King Bel­las­sai is pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil of Scot­tish Clans & As­so­ci­a­tions (COSCA).

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