Tag Archives: National Diet Library

The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate

This appears on the ESRC website: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/world-watching-scottish-independence-debate

The Scottish independence debate may, at times, seem parochial, but its reach is global. We often seem to focus on narrow Scottish issues but the big questions travel well: what should be the size of a nation state? Should large countries have central, regional and local governments? If so, how should we share those responsibilities and coordinate policymaking between levels of government? Which policy areas should be centralized and which devolved? Should regions have taxation and spending powers?

I was struck by this global interest when invited to speak about regionalism in the UK, and Scottish devolution in particular, to a Japanese audience (in meetings with policymakers, parliamentary researchers and the general public) at the National Diet Library last month. This type of exchange shows you how the big questions matter, because a large part of the Scottish experience does not apply to Japan at all: proponents of ‘doshu-sei’ want to use it to foster economic policymaking powers in regions and to help reduce the national debt by slimming down central government. There is almost no equivalent in Japan to something that we generally take for granted in the UK – the groundswell of popular support for a degree of Scottish self-government. Instead, the lessons are about regional policymaking:

  • Scotland has shown that regional governments can make policy differently and introduce different policies. They can foster meaningful networks between governments, business, professional and voluntary groups, and they can use those networks to gather knowledge to inform the production of policies more suited to a specific region.
  • The Scottish experience shows that central and regional governments can work well together. Although the UK and Scottish governments do not learn from each other very much, they have a remarkably smooth relationship. Adding a new layer of government does not cause a confusing or crowded policymaking environment.

The UK is also a potential source for broad inspiration. In Japan, the devolution of powers from central government has been piecemeal and difficult for the public to see. Some observers from Japan saw UK devolution as a major high profile event (even though we often call it a ‘process’) and see Scotland in particular as a hub for regional policy and economic innovation. This experience may be used to sell regionalism in Japan as a necessarily ‘bold’ step, to engage the public imagination and address political crisis.

So, the next time you see what looks to be a parochial and inward looking argument in Scotland, remember that the world is watching too. What we often take for granted and treat as humdrum may be viewed very differently elsewhere.

This is where the role of the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland programme is crucial. External observers need a way to condense a huge amount of information and experience into a set of ‘take-home’ messages. We have shown that research is as much about external engagement as knowledge gathering – and that, even at this early stage, we are well placed to provide it.

See also The International Image of Scottish Devolution: a view from Japan

What Can Japan Learn from Devolution in the UK?

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Filed under ESRC Scottish Centre for Constitutional Change, Japan, Scottish politics

Gift Giving

I suppose that gift giving looks simple enough, but I’ve received enough gifts from Japanese colleagues (and seen them exchange gifts with each other in a particular way) to know that there is a system to it. For example, you might give the best gift to the most senior person in an organisation, then other gifts to key members of staff. I’m a poor gift giver at the best of times, so I played it safe on my recent trip to the National Diet Library by asking who, how and when? Even then, I didn’t get it quite right. Still, we look quite happy, don’t we?

Mr Otaki, the National Diet Library ‘Librarian’ (the head of this organisation, which is like the House of Commons Library combined with the British Library, or modelled on the Library of Congress) got a University of Stirling tie:


Mr Ikemoto, the Deputy Librarian got a fancy pen (not pictured, because I messed up the presentation). Mr Amino, the Director General of the Research and Legislative Reference Bureau, also got a fancy pen


Then, the leader of the project and ‘Senior Specialist’ Mr Yoshimoto, sub-leader and ‘Specialist’ Mr Kato, and Senior Researcher Mr Yamaguchi all got fancy pens:


Everyone else did a great job of looking appreciative when I brought some Scottish shortbread – including Mr Tanaka (Director, Public Administration and Judicial Affairs Division) and Ms Matsuda (Researcher, Public Administration and Judicial Affairs Division), who took me on a tour round the National Diet (plus Mr Ashida, Ms Hagiwara and Ms Nishikawa, in the penultimate and very bottom pictures, who coordinated some of the events, showed me round the library and helped interpret some discussions) :

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Of course, as it turns out, they gave me much better gifts – and senior staff themselves paid for me to go sightseeing, at the end of the seminars, with Ms Matsuda and Ms Uehara (Researcher, Parliamentary Documents and Official Publications Division) – apologies for the picture, taken (at the base of the Tokyo Skytree) by me at arms length:

2013-11-28 15.45.33

My fancy tie/ pens ended up looking a bit second-best.  Still, we look quite happy, don’t we?  More importantly, the welcome that I got was inspirational. This trip has inspired me to begin to learn Japanese and to try to study Japan in much more detail. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of being able to present complex ideas without an interpreter (speaking into my ear, at three different sessions, below), but I’d like to think that, the next time I visit Tokyo, I can maintain a basic conversation with the great people I met in Tokyo.


At the very least, I’d like to be able to say, ‘my flash isn’t working, but I think it still looks good’:

2013-11-26 21.22.05

See also: What Can Japan Learn from Devolution in the UK?

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