The sight of Scottish ministers boarding flights to far-flung destinations in order to “sell Scotland to the world” has been a familiar one for more than half a century.

In the 1980s, it was usually George Younger jetting off to Japan, without whom “Silicon Glen” would hardly have existed. Later, his successors cast their eyes across the Atlantic while, more recently, the Gulf states and Far East have found favour.

Today, Nicola Sturgeon will touch down in China, on her second trip as First Minister. Alex Salmond was there before her, and Jack McConnell before him. Indeed, it was McConnell who originally appointed a “first secretary” of Scottish Affairs in Beijing.

As the world’s (then) fastest-growing economy, this of course made a lot of sense, as it still does, although such globe-trotting necessarily involves trade-offs. The leader of the SNP prides herself in being a progressive democrat and champion of human rights, yet neither China nor the Gulf region exactly have strong records in those respects.

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In a pre-emptive strike, the First Minister made it known she’d been briefed by Amnesty International on the current human rights situation in China ahead of her five-day trip, while promising to raise this with Chinese leaders in a “constructive and appropriate way” so as not to be “counter-productive”.

"I’m a great believer that as a leader of a country wanting to do business and wanting to expand business,” she said, we’ve got to be very firm about the values and principles we hold dear and not compromise on that.” But compromise is precisely what the First Minister has done, not only by visiting China in the first place, but not mentioning the elephant in the room.

Which would be Tibet, invaded by the People’s Liberation Army in 1950 (having declared independence from China in 1913) and about which the SNP manages, strikingly, not to have a view. If pushed, they’d probably fall back on the nostrum that it’s an “internal” matter for the government in Beijing, but if Tibet is a matter for China, why isn’t Catalonia one for Spain?

Sturgeon in China” also involves economic compromises. As we learnt a few years ago, there was little due diligence applied to the £10 billion “memorandum of understanding” with state-owned Chinese firms, which collapsed following concerns about corruption and human rights abuses relating to one of the firm’s parent companies. Petulantly, the SNP blamed opposition parties for raising concerns in the first place.

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As anyone who’s visited “communist” China will know, there isn’t much between its “socialist market” economics and the neoliberal West. In 2008, for example, New Zealand signed a Free Trade Agreement with Beijing, which is now its largest trading partner in merchandise goods ahead of Australia. Shrewdly, Wellington started engaging with its Asian neighbours in the 1970s, when preferential trading links were severed after the UK joined the Common Market.

And as yesterday’s Sunday Herald reported, it’s to New Zealand that the SNP now looks for economic inspiration, with the long-awaited Growth Commission drawing inspiration from David Skilling, a former adviser to the Kiwi government and a consultant who appears to have made a living out of telling “small countries” what they (or rather some within them) want to hear; Skilling also shares the Nationalists’ breezy confidence about the economic riches that await post-independence.

I’ve visited New Zealand several times and it’s undoubtedly an attractive place, both physically and in terms of governance; like its larger neighbour Australia, it has enjoyed positive growth rates for about a quarter of a century and, rather like Scotland, Kiwis like to depict themselves as a vibrant, outward-looking nation which takes inequality and human rights seriously.

But as with most national mythologies, that isn’t the whole story, and it’s worth remembering how New Zealand reached the economic position it now finds itself in. On one trip to Wellington a few years ago, I encountered Sir Roger Douglas, the country’s former finance minister and a figure as divisive today as the late Margaret Thatcher remains in Scotland.

The first wave of what became known as “Rogernomics” involved deregulating financial markets, removing exchange controls and slashing subsidies to many Kiwi industries, most notably its agricultural sector, together with radical reductions in personal taxation. In other words, Sir Roger implemented Thatcherite reforms while part of an ostensibly Labour government. The second wave, meanwhile, saw a controversial restructuring of New Zealand’s once-generous welfare state.

It’s worth tracking down a series of podcasts called “The 9th Floor” online, which comprise in-depth interviews with all surviving prime ministers of New Zealand. All are questioned closely about that period and the social impact of those economic reforms, with many arguing that it was a price worth paying for the prosperity many Kiwis have subsequently enjoyed.

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Now if that’s the sort of economic strategy the Growth Commission is likely to recommend, then it’s not surprising the SNP is dragging its feet when it comes to publication. While that sort of approach might sit easily with the party’s neoliberal wing, it’ll most likely make self-professed social democrat Nicola Sturgeon deeply uneasy, no matter how pragmatic her approach to government and economics over the past few years has been.

But then she and her government need something, not only to stimulate Scotland’s generally sluggish economic growth rates, but also when it comes to rejuvenating a clearly moribund economic case for independence.

The former New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk once said that Kiwis didn’t ask for much, “someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for”. Scottish Nationalists have always been good at the politics of hope, but it’s in explaining the “work” part where its real challenge lies.