Abigail Stevens: Adventurous expat Scots form a global community

As managing director of an international recruitment consultancy, I am impressed by the scale and influence of Scots around the globe.

Kilts are worn with pride on the streets of New York during Tartan Day. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Kilts are worn with pride on the streets of New York during Tartan Day. Picture: Donald MacLeod

According to the most recent government study, one in five people born in Scotland live elsewhere in the UK or overseas. This makes Scots the most likely English-speaking nation to leave their country to live abroad. Closely beating their dispersed Celtic cousins, Ireland, they also leave the likes of the US, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand quite a distance behind.

There is also a strong possibility that the number of Scots living abroad is higher than stated in official reports. This is due to many countries’ census forms not including a Scottish option and therefore we are unable to track those figures.

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For 20 years, I have helped Scots make life-changing moves overseas to start their international accounting and finance careers. Their hardworking reputation proceeds them and, importantly, they always integrate well with their new communities. They always show a commitment and enthusiasm to make a positive contribution to their new homes and those that return, bring back great experience.

One such professional from Lewis, Don MacDonald, who we assisted to relocate to Zambia initially for two years, ended up becoming the CEO of the national airline not long after. He also founded Old MacDonald’s Farm, a charity project that provides a safe home and education for some of the poorest children in Lusaka. One of their boys has recently been offered a place at African Leadership University which they are currently crowdfunding for.

As part of my role, I travel across the world to meet with clients of multinational firms and catch up with accountants we have assisted moving over the years. It wouldn’t be surprising to find Scottish people in key positions within these companies – for example, many of the managing partner’s in the top ten accountancy firms in Hong Kong are Scottish, and proud of it. Many comment that “there is no expat like a Scottish expat”. Although Scots may choose to live overseas, they remember their home country fondly and serve as great advocates of it.

It is important that the Scottish Government continues with the Diaspora Engagement Plan laid out in 2010. The report estimated that the number of international diaspora could be up to 40m when extending the definition to those with ancestral ties. Groups like Global Scots strengthen the network of Scots working overseas and encourages a Scottish camaraderie across shores. With today’s ease of travel and direct communications there is a fantastic opportunity to extend these types of initiatives and branch out further with social networks and groups. We should also not underestimate the value of our ancestral connections. They can not only lead to increased investment and tourism at home, but also create an instant connection between strangers.

We need to ensure we keep connected with our Scottish global community as they provide a vital link between us and the rest of the world.

Abigail Stevens is Managing Director of Think Global Recruitment - international accountancy and finance specialist www.thinkgr.com