The Cold War was waged with guns and bombs, with dollars and cents, and with a magazine called Angliya.

For decades as West faced off against East in proxy conflicts from Angola to Vietnam, the British Government churned out its little Russian-language glossy.

This was propaganda lite, harmless rosy pictures of what its strapline called "modern life in Great Britain", a state most Soviets simply called Angliya, England, just like the magazine itself.

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Angliya was banal, it had to be, since it was published for a Soviet audience under one of the occasional Cold War deals between the UK and USSR on improving relations.

But, amid its gentle spin, it had a secret weapon that made it unmissable for many educated Russians: English lessons.

State propagandists - if far from all policy-makers - have long understood the political power of language learning.

Anyone studying, say, English can't help glean some understanding of, maybe even a liking for, the Anglophone world.

Most major states figured this out years ago. Democracies like France, the UK and Germany have publicly funded institutes around the world teaching their languages and cultures.

This is part of what diplomats call soft power, the drive to boost global influence by co-opting rather than coercing, by friendly persuasion rather than force.

Until now Western democracies - trading on a reputation for credibility and openness - have been good at it and more authoritarian or corrupt regimes have not.

That's changing. Take China. The Communist state hasn't just embraced capitalism that is red in tooth and claw (without the rule of law and democracy that softens free markets in the west).

It has also learned how to wield soft power, albeit with a harder edge. And that includes its efforts to make its language, the world's biggest, better known.

China investing more than any other state in the world in promoting its language. And, say critics, its worldview at the same time.

The Chinese state has set up Confucius Institutes across the world, staffed with its own teachers, teachers that, it admits, stick firmly to party lines on big issues like Tibet, Taiwan or the banned religious group Falan Gong.

The result? Real hand-wringing across the West about the institutes as they become the defacto Chinese departments of universities and schools. Real handwringing, that is, almost everywhere bar Scotland.

Our newly autonomous government has little or no experience in the murky worlds of soft power and the new language wars. Holyrood politicians want to see more Scots learn Chinese. But they are not prepared to pay for it.

So successive first ministers, Jack McConnell of Labour and Alex Salmond of the SNP, tirelessly courted Beijing for help.

Scotland now has four Confucius Institutes, per capita, more than any other country but no significant indigenous capacity to teach the language or culture of the biggest state in the world.

Few - outside disgruntled language experts - complain.

After all, education administrators, headteachers and academics don't just get subsidised tuition for their students through Confucius Institutes and their school spin-offs. They get feelgood junkets too. Soft power can feel pretty good if you're its beneficiary.

Back in the days of Angliya Magazine, pre-devolution politicians reckoned the old USSR was so important they needed a cadre of language experts who understood the place. In the 2000s and 2010s Scottish leaders came to the same conclusion about Chinese. The difference between the generations: it would never have occurred to the UK's soft-power-savvy Cold War rulers that the USSR should pay for and staff almost Scotland's entire school and university capacity to teach Russian.