When I gave my talk on the lessons that UK regionalism might provide for Japan , it was followed by commentary by my co-author Professor Mikine Yamazaki and some questions from the audience. I know that a few people are not representative, but the comments are still interesting, since they reveal an image of the UK and Scottish devolution based on a very different and sometimes surprising perspective. Some highlights (based on my notes from interpreted Japanese) include:
1.Others May See Scotland in a Very Positive Light
- Scottish devolution is one of the most successful in the world (a point made before two main qualifications: it is only one of many regional outcomes in the UK and Europe; it was not inevitable – rather, there is a long history of devolution movements).
- Scotland seeks to be globally competitive by pursuing innovation in scientific research and energy. It is one of the world leading countries in life sciences (remember Dolly the Sheep?) and has many world class Universities. Many of its medical schools are world class. It invests extensively in R&D and its companies are often acquired when they become successful (sometimes by Japanese firms).
- Scotland is capitalising on its renewable energy potential (making good use of its bad weather) and has some of the most ambitious targets on the proportion of electricity produced via renewable sources (including the aim to produce 100% of its energy needs from renewables by 2020).
- Overall, the Scottish Government is capitalising on its regional characteristics and developing a unique policymaking style in a ‘new era of globalisation’ (note Japan’s focus on regionalism and fiscal devolution as a way to address trends in economic globalisation).
2.Others May See Scotland as a Source of Inspiration for Regionalism
There is a recognition that Scotland’s history and particular circumstances cannot be replicated in Japanese regions, which lack: high levels of regional identity; popular demands for a degree of self-government; the pre-devolution sense of a ‘democratic deficit’ (voting in Scotland for one government, Labour, but receiving another, Conservative); and, the perception that a Conservative government imposed unpopular policies in Scotland and exacerbated the democratic deficit. However, some of the language about Scotland was revealing since, for some, it provided a broad source of inspiration:
- The UK experience shows us that people have to be able to feel that devolution has taken place, which requires a comprehensive devolution of legislative powers from central to local (the context is piecemeal devolution to local government in Japan).
- The Scottish experience can inspire regions to be bold and to make a leap.
- Even if some regions might be worse off economically, regionalism requires the courage to act.
Overall, the Scottish experience and attitude has become, for some, a beacon of hope (as opposed to a source of detailed reforms). This is an image that you might struggle to find within Scotland.
See also: The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/world-watching-scottish-independence-debate