Scottish Government sponsored and Universities of Edinburgh and Otago supervised Scottish Migration and Diaspora Survey

Submitted by Iain Watson on Thu, 02/06/2014 - 07:40


Calling on all with even the remotest hint of Scottish blood running through their genes and a connection to Hong Kong!


Diasporas and migrants often construct myths which act to root them in their new homelands and legitimise their departure from the motherland.  The Jews are the ‘chosen people’ descended from Abraham, while the African slaves of the Americas maintained myths of trans-migratory return to Africa.  The Scots of the nineteenth century took with them a romanticised notion of their nation informed by the immensely popular works of Sir Walter Scott.  In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Scott’s romanticised national identity was given the enhanced construction of a victim diaspora born out of the Highland clearances by accessible populist histories such as those of John Prebble.  This semi-mythical, sometimes victim, emigrant identity continues to revisit Scotland in the form of tourism and public perception in addition to colouring the external perceptions of both the diaspora and non-Scots.


A postgraduate doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh is conducting a Scottish Government funded and Universities of Edinburgh and Otago supervised research project into the Scottish diaspora or migrants to New Zealand and Hong Kong.  In this respect the definition of Scottish is wide-ranging in terms of both current location and who may respond as a Scot.  The target audience are Scots in Hong Kong, and Scots who have at some time lived in Hong Kong.  The definition of Scots here is the widest it can possibly be and is not restricted to those born in Scotland but includes anyone with even the remotest hint of a Scottish ancestor.

The link to the survey is;

and is available until 31st March 2014.

There is a substantial amount of lore and tradition concerning the role of Scots in Hong Kong but as yet little scholarly research.  This survey is intended to provide the basis of a doctoral thesis on modern Scottish migration from the mid-nineteenth century to today.  The study compares two different Scottish migrant groups; the predominantly settler migrants of New Zealand and the largely temporary migrants to Hong Kong.  The goal is to identify any differences or similarities in the perceptions and use of Scottish ethnic identity (or Scottishness) within these groups.


In Hong Kong where the Scottish diaspora appears to have created its own mythology or legend.  This is best summed up in the opening paragraphs of a 2007 Financial Times article about Hong Kong’s annual International rugby seven-a-side tournament written by a Welsh sports correspondent, which arguably reflects both the perceptions of Scots sojourners in Hong Kong and the currency of those views amongst the non-Scots expatriate community:



Scots made an immense impact across the entire extent and history of the British empire, but rarely more so than in Hong Kong.  They were responsible for the island becoming British. … The most important of these was Dumfriesshire native James Matheson … - whose business partner Thomas [sic – should be William] Jardine, also a Scot, successfully urged the British government into punitive action against the Chinese for seizing and destroying their opium.  The company they created in 1832 was one of the key architects of Hong Kong's commercial success. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was founded by another Scot, Thomas Sutherland and Scottish regiments were frequently garrisoned on the island. 

(Huw Richards, “Borders legend converted to global craze,” Financial Times, 30 March 30 2007,



The initial data derived from this questionnaire will be used to identify perceptions and constructions of identity.  The intention is then to identify a sample of at least 30 respondents for in-depth, semi-structured life-story interviews but only from those who would be willing to be interviewed.

Importantly such projects have in the past tended to be focused on those who are well engaged with their Scottish identity.  The large number of those who are less engaged are often ignored.  If at all possible we would encourage you to circulate the survey link as widely as possible and particularly to family members and friends of Scottish descent who are not members of Scottish interest or associational groups.

In this year when Scotland goes to the polls on the issue of nationhood it is important that whatever the outcome, the parent country continues to be concerned and interested in its diaspora and we would encourage you to support this worthwhile survey.

Finally, a bit about the researcher, Iain Watson.  Iain holds a Masters degree in Diaspora and Migration History from the University of Edinburgh, where he is also employed as a tutor for Modern Scottish History, Scottish History since 1914 and Economic History.  He has strong ties to Hong Kong where he worked for HSBC from 1981 to 1997 and where his brother and family still live and work.  More detail concerning Iain and his affiliations can be found at; and/or