What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK?

I can’t give you an answer yet, but here is a draft abstract and then an explanation for the question.


‘Regionalism’ can be defined broadly as the pursuit or creation of a governing tier between central and local government. The experience of regionalism in the UK – and Scottish devolution in particular – has attracted significant academic and policymaker attention in Japan. It has the potential to provide important lessons, particularly if the regionalism agenda is expanded in Japan. However, the policy transfer literature suggests that lesson-drawing will not be successful unless the borrowing government understands how and why policy developed in the lender – and if that experience is comparable to its own. Consequently, we must first consider the comparability of their political systems and their reasons to pursue regionalism. In the case of Scotland, devolution arose largely from local demand for a degree of governing autonomy. Unlike in Japan, there was minimal impetus from the centre and minimal discussion by central government of an economic development or public sector reform imperative. It is therefore difficult to assess regionalism as an economic project directed by the state (the experience of English regions may be more relevant). However, we can identify two relevant issues. First, the UK experience shows what it takes to create and sustain popular support and legitimacy for regionalism: it has been possible recently in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not until the 1990s and not in England. Second, the Scottish experience demonstrates the ability of the Scottish Government to develop its own policymaking networks (‘territorial policy communities’) and governing styles – and both may contribute to the ability of regions to coordinate policies promoting social and economic development.

The draft paper came from this series of events: (1) I was asked by the National Diet of Japan to go there in November to talk about regionalism in Europe, and the UK/ Scotland in particular; (2) I knew, from my work on policy transfer, that I could only give relevant advice if I knew why they wanted the information and how comparable were the Japan/ UK experiences – i.e. there is no point in learning lessons from others if they don’t apply to you; (3) I knew that I knew very little about Japanese politics and policymaking; (4) I got together with Mikine Yamazaki to produce a more meaningful paper based on his knowledge of Japan (and Scotland) and mine of the UK. I’m in Hokkaido just now (to give a paper at the Japanese Political Science Association annual conference), so that has given us the chance to talk it through in person (which proved very valuable indeed).

I recommend this sort of thing. It’s very much like interdisciplinary work – the need to know so much about how to explain your specialist area (in my case to MPs, National Diet research staff, and members of the public) really forces you to think – in a more fundamental way – about the things you would ordinarily take for granted when communicating with a smaller group in your familiar networks. This is high bar work which, I think, will also improve the more straightforward work.

More information on the National Diet of Japan: http://www.shugiin.go.jp/itdb_english.nsf/html/statics/english/kokkaiannai_e.pdf/$File/kokkaiannai_e.pdf

See also: ‘Representing’ Scotland and the UK at Japan’s PSA

1 Comment

Filed under Academic innovation or navel gazing, Japan, public policy, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy

One response to “What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK?

  1. Pingback: Policy Transfer in Theory and Practice: What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK? | Paul Cairney: Politics and Policy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s