Homecoming 2009: First Minister Salmond issues a worldwide invitation

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FIRST Minister Alex Salmond today called for Scots around the world to visit Scotland next year for the Homecoming 2009 celebration.

A nationwide events programme has been organised, inspired by the 250th anniversary of poet Robert Burns' birth.

A signature event will be The Gathering, one of the largest clan get togethers in Scotland.

Mr Salmond said at the event's launch today at Edinburgh Castle that there are almost 100 million Scots across the planet.

Over 100 events have been organised to celebrate Scotland's first year of Homecoming, with the First Minister launching an e-card to help spread the word.

"I want to urge everyone in Scotland to play their part in what will be the biggest ever celebration of Scotland's achievements and culture, and our ties of family and friendship around the world," Mr Salmond said.

The programme is centred on five themes comprising Burns, whisky, golf, great Scottish minds and innovations, and culture and heritage.

As well as Scots, it is also aimed at people of Scottish descent and even those who love Scotland

A Burns 250th anniversary weekend is planned, which includes a campaign to create the world's biggest virtual Burns Supper.

The British Open's return to Turnberry, as well as the first Whisky Galore festival, to be held on Barra, are also among the highlights.

The Gathering will include Scotland's largest Highland Games, the World Heavy Athletics Championships, and a clan march up the Royal Mile over the weekend of July 25/26.

"I've heard various estimates of the size of the Scottish diaspora, what I prefer to think of the Scottish family, and it won't be far short of 100 million people around the face of this planet," the First Minister said.

This includes first to fifth generation Scots and even anyone whose "granny has been to Saltcoats for a day trip once", Mr Salmond added.

"With so many exciting events taking place across the country, 2009 will be a fantastic year to invite people around the world, with either an ancestral link or affinity for Scotland, to come home."

The festival begins on Burns night, January 25, and ends on St Andrew's Day on November 30.

Paul Bush of Eventscotland said 2009 will provide an additional 40m to the Scottish economy from tourism.

Marie Christie, Homecoming Scotland 2009 project director, said: "We think there is something in the programme for everyone and we hope Scots and those who love Scotland, at home and abroad will join the celebrations in 2009."

For further details, go to www.homecomingscotland.2009.com