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28 March 2017

Does Scotland’s Instagram digital strategy press the right buttons?

Scotland’s new Digital Strategy could be mistaken for a brochure for a phone shop, or knitwear outlet. But we should ignore the fact the publication looks like it was designed for residents of Glasgow’s Finnieston. 

In polling conducted after last year’s Scottish Parliament election, small businesses north of the border said that delivering on digital should be a top priority for the Scottish Government.  

Therefore, the content of this strategy matters for all sorts of firms – everyone from tech cluster upstarts to rural tourism businesses.

The document features 123 action points and about a dozen heavily-filtered pics of intelligent-looking occasionally bespectacled youngsters pointing at screens. Only one of these snaps was of Cabinet Secretary Derek Mackay. 

Despite its 11,000 words, the document contained disappointingly few details about plans to deliver universal superfast broadband in Scotland. There’s going to be a consultation over the next three months, but if you’re one of the 27 per cent of Scottish smaller businesses without access to modern internet speeds, you’re impatient for progress. Especially since it looks increasingly likely you’ll be expected to bank online. Superfast Coverage for SMEs

In better news, a new £36 million fund has been outlined to help firms boost their digital skills. 75 per cent of Scottish businesses say that new technologies are vital to their plans for growth, but less than two in five say they’ve the right digital skills amongst their staff. FSB wants to see this fund spent on local firms, and not just splurged on the techy clusters in our cities.

Like the fare in apparently every modern eatery, the document is made up of tasty little morsels.

For example, the Scottish Government commits to develop a single sign-in and authentication process for businesses seeking access to public sector services. There are plans to extend the well-received Digital Boost enterprise support programme. They talk about tacking mobile blackspots and ensuring that Scotland gets a boost from 5G.  They promise to identify and remove outdated legislative impediments to delivering the digital services that people want.

Scotland's Digital StrategyHowever like disappointing tapas, the publication might leave you hungry for a main course. Between the brexit / indyref stoosh, the controversial drive to close the educational attainment gap and the ever present NHS-in-crisis story, it is easy to get the impression that the digital agenda doesn’t top every cabinet meeting. The fact that the Scottish Government beta website has been chugging along the old website for many months gives the impression that progress isn’t exactly urgent. 

But like the increasing popularity of grown men in dungarees and neck tattoos - it doesn’t seem to matter if we like it - digital change seems like a force impossible to resist.

FSB’s report looking at Digital Disruption warned that Scottish firms and politicians need to get to grips with turbulent digital change, or face dire consequences. Super recent work by SCDI and Deloitte concluded that Scotland’s private and public sectors have their digital work cut out. Even the Scottish Futures Trust have warned about what will happen if Scotland doesn’t get with the digital programme.

As the Home Secretary decries WhatsApp and Uber’s first experiment in autonomous vehicles ends in embarrassment, others are worried about what largescale automation might mean for jobs and local economies.

While the strategy contains some good ideas, the challenge for the country will be to keep on top of these issues despite other distractions. The Scottish Parliament, its committees and campaign groups like ourselves have key roles on this front. Scotland’s digital ambitions are too important just to be left to the Scottish Government. 


Stuart Mackinnon is External Affairs Manager for the FSB in Scotland

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