Clans chief laments Scots youths' lack of interest in their heritage

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IT IS a club whose international membership takes pride in keeping alive traditions and customs dating back centuries.

But the newly appointed head of the nation's leading authority on clans has criticised the lack of interest among young Scots in their ancestry compared to their counterparts in the US and Australia.

Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor, convener of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs (SCSC), said the fact their heritage and culture was "on their doorstep" appeared to dissuade new generations of indigenous Scots from researching their family history.

He vowed to work alongside organisations like the Scottish Government and VisitScotland as well as ancestral Scots groups the world over to make the historic council more "relevant" and "up to date".

The 24th chief of the Clan MacGregor said the organisation should not simply be "beetling away" with clans alone, explaining that a key aim of his tenure was to help preserve clan culture along with historical artefacts and sites of interest, something which he said "has not happened at all" to date.

He also revealed that the organisation is in tentative talks with officials for a possible clan gathering in Stirling in 2014 to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, but stressed there were "lessons to be learned" from The Gathering event in Edinburgh in 2009, which attracted criticism after running up significant debts.

Many of Scotland's 140 clans and families are now being kept alive by enthusiasts in Ontario and Auckland, rather than Auchterarder or Oban.

Sir Malcolm, a former major in the Scots Guards, took over the prestigious post of SCSC convener last month from Lord Caithness, who he praised for helping to begin the "modernisation process" with a clan chiefs' convention at the Scottish Parliament two years ago.

"We've hit on a number of areas we were weak in, and we realised we had no real liaison with government or VisitScotland," he said. "That's changing now."

Sir Malcolm, who is married to BBC newsreader Fiona Armstrong, said he hopes to target a younger demographic, but admitted there was no easy way of executing such a plan.

"We have quite a substantial younger element abroad compared to this country," he explained. "There's a problem in Scotland in encouraging younger people to join.

"I think that part of the problem with Scots generally is that our heritage, culture, and all the rest of it is on our doorstep. People don't need to join a society to get at it, and that has a knock on effect to their children, who won't join a society or go to a library to research.

"Whereas in America and Australia, family history is very important to people. American Scots often regard themselves as Scottish first and American second."Nonetheless, Sir Malcolm, who works as a landscape photographer, said the increasing availability of DNA research techniques allied to traditional genealogical studies ensured that interest in clans worldwide was buoyant.

"DNA research has made a hell of a difference, it helps people see how clans have evolved and helps bolster the number of people joining clans and clan societies," he reasoned.