Scottish history and culture will be lost if not promoted among diaspora
• Scottish historical events, such as the Battle of Culloden, should be studied across the world, according to Prof Cairns Craig
Professor Cairns Craig said such institutions could strengthen the link between expatriate Scots and their ancestral homeland – and benefit the economy by bringing in more tourists.
The Professor of Irish and Scottish History at the University of Aberdeen spoke out at a discussion on the Scottish diaspora and how to strengthen links between expatriate communities and Scotland.
He said Ireland was way ahead of Scotland in terms of promoting its history and culture globally.
"Part of the problem is our own lack of understanding of our culture." he said. "Our academic institutions have very little space for examining Scottish culture.
"We have very few ways of linking with these communities, so we need to found centres of Scottish studies around the world. The government could fund chairs of Scottish Studies at universities to give links into Scottish communities abroad."
Prof Craig said there were a handful of Centres for Scottish studies, including two in Canada, but they were "small and under-funded and do not make a big impact – compare them with the size and scale of centres of Irish studies and we are just not in the same league".
He argued that one problem was that Scotland was represented internationally by the British Council which gave "token acknowledgement to things Scottish".
Prof Craig said because the connection was weak, no-one was informing Scottish communities abroad of the development of modern Scottish culture and all that was left was an image of the past, which was played out in rituals like Burns suppers.
He also called for cultural ambassadors for Scotland to be appointed around the world to "involve communities in a dialogue about modern Scottish culture."
The professor was speaking at an event at the Scottish Parliament organised by Cultural Connect Scotland, which seeks to form "creative and cultural links between Scotland and its global community".
Justice minister Kenny MacAskill, who has written two books on expatriate Scots with former First Minister Henry McLeish, agreed the answer to engaging with the diaspora was to be found at home.
He said: "Attitudes are changing but it is about faith, belief and self-confidence at home – and not being disparaging about expat communties."
It is estimated that there at least 30 million people worldwide – and maybe as many as 100 million – who claim Scottish ancestry. But there has been criticism that the opportunity presented by the Year of Homecoming has not been taken.
Visitor numbers were not as high as had been hoped, while the showpiece event of the year – The Gathering, which included a clan march down the Royal Mile and a clan village in Holyrood Park – is mired in controversy after making a 600,000 loss.
Graeme Murdoch, of Cultural Connect Scotland, said: "The traditional image of Scotland and modern Scotland do not need to be separate. T hey can work to mutual benefit."
Culture minister Mike Russell, whose brief covers links with the diaspora, said: "The ambition that Professor Cairns shows is very encouraging. He is absolutely right that we should build constructive links with the diaspora, and that is something that we are taking forward. I look forward to working with him to achieve these aims."