Scotland is often accused of being introspective and needing to have a much more global outlook. One place which could never be accused of these things is Taiwan. I recently was lucky enough to be part of a MSP delegation visit there.
You can’t help but be struck by its fascinating history and complicated place in the world, with its difficult relationship with mainland China. Taiwan is by no means perfect, but it is a country that has seen a remarkable economic transformation over the last 50 years. And interestingly, they are the fourth biggest market for Scotch whisky globally.
What was striking throughout all the conversations with officials, ministers and business owners, was a focus on progress and a consistent vision. It became clear that Taiwan’s remarkable economic transformation has been thanks to commitment to a clear plan that is regularly revised and renewed, but consistently applied and adhered to across government in partnership with business. This is an Asian Tiger economy, one relentlessly focused on progress in its economic development, but one that recognises the economic necessity for a developed system of social support.
These features became the key talking point both amongst MSPs and corresponding questions from officials. What was remarkable was the frankness that people had about the challenges they faced and the pragmatism with which they face those problems. Issues of low birth rate, shortage of available land through to the shortcomings of old economic strategies and of course the thorny issue of the relationship with mainland China. All of these problems are treated matter-of-factly with clarity and ultimately with a view to overcoming them and making progress.
In recent years we have grown very used to bleak economic factors. There is a global financial crisis and politics in Scotland seems to be on hold, continually dominated by the constitutional question.
To be fair, government does engage in a great number of strategies and plans. But what always strikes me is the fact that they barely acknowledge the challenges or issues and rarely commit themselves to specific means, let alone outcomes for achieving the renovations that they set out. But above all, plans are starting to be issued constantly without much understanding of how they relate to one another.
This is my lesson for Scotland from Taiwan. Let us be clearer about what we need to achieve, learn our lessons from around the world but above all else be pragmatic. There will always be issues and situations not of our making, and beyond our control, and but we need to be pragmatic and focused on what we can do not what we can’t. Taiwan is a country that has been in constitutional limbo for almost 70 years and it is one that focuses on its place in the future, rather than on external factors that hinder it. A future that may include a prominent place in the whisky marketplace and having sampled some, it’s really pretty good! Scotland watch out!
Daniel Johnson is a Lothian Labour MSP.