Scots dig deep to revel in the past

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Arts Correspondent

Sheila Brock, the campaign director in charge of raising more than pounds 7m for the new Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is reading up about the Alamo.

"Did you know," she ponders meaningfully, "that they reckon half the people who fought at the Alamo were of Scottish origin. Now, if I could trace their descendants. There are a lot of Scottish people in the hill country in Texas. I will have to go there."

And go she will. The fund raising for the museum that is due to open in 1988 and tell Scotland's story both through objects and displays involving the latest computer technology, is proving one of the most ingenious campaigns yet.

Dr Brock and Lady Dalkeith, chairwoman of the museum's patrons, are flying round the world, a world that contains 40 million people claiming Scottish descent, and using every form of cultural and emotional persuading known to woman.

They have already held a party on the Royal Yacht Britannia in New York harbour; persuaded Sir Colin Marshall, chairman of British Airways, to give them free travel world-wide, and contacted every St Andrew's society (for expatriate Scots) in the world, from San Francisco to Jakarta.

So far they have raised pounds 5m, nearly half from abroad, with pounds 2m remaining to match the pounds 7.2m awarded to the project by the National Heritage Memorial Fund from lottery money.

The chance to help towards a new national museum, to be sited next to the splendid Victorian Royal Museum with its 80ft high atrium in Chambers Street, has attracted large and small benefactors alike.

According to Ruth Wishart, a close friend of Dr Brock's and a columnist on the Scotsman, the success of the campaign in a very short time is "an object lesson in variously harnessing the networking ability of the Scottish nobility, the notorious sentimentality of the Scottish diaspora, and the timeless appeal of a footnote in Scottish history to human vanity".

Dr Brock, who has worked at the National Museums of Scotland since 1979, has become something of an expert on the psychology of Scottish expatriates and their descendants.

As the erstwhile academicpored over Vanity Fair and Harpers and Queen magazines to keep abreast of the movements of the wealthier Scots world- wide, she said: "Nobody had heard of this project in America, so we've had to raise the profile in a remarkably short time. We've been reminding people of their Scottish roots. The Scots have gone to so many parts of the world for all kinds of reasons. Maybe the Scots and the Jews have something in common in that both consider themselves to be the chosen people."

It is not just the Scots who are being urged to give, but all those with affection for Scotland. Drue Heinz, of the food family, who opened Hawthornden Castle near Edinburgh as a retreat for writers in 1982, has given pounds lm for the new museum's forecourt. And the late fashion designer Jean Muir requested mourners to make out cheques to the Museum of Scotland fund.

Dr Brock is already thinking about her next big catch, one with potential to fund the whole museum if he wished. "I've not managed Bill Gates yet, " she said, "but I gather that his mother was Scottish."