Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has spoken on the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting the country’s technology sector.
In a speech at Edinburgh’s Data Summit 2019, on the 21st of March, she said: “As First Minister, I can say on behalf of the Scottish Government we are determined to work with you to support you, to make sure that happens and that we see that success continue to grow.”
Sturgeon highlighted Scotland’s growing global reputation as a centre of excellence for academic research, talent and innovation in the technology sector, and insisted it must capitalise on its reputation as a welcoming, inclusive nation.
“Scotland has a highly skilled workforce with great strengths in areas such as data and digital, and investors are increasingly seeing us as an attractive location for growing their business,” she said.
More and more, the country is being labelled as one of the major tech hubs of Europe, a reputation that has been bolstered by the establishment of a number of tech accelerators across Scotland, including Codebase and the Bayes Centre; both located in Scotland’s entrepreneurial heartland.
Last year, Tech Nation named Edinburgh as the UK’s premier location to establish a technology company – a notion supported by the growing number of large tech organisations choosing to locate in Scotland. In particular, Sturgeon focused on the potentially massive economic benefits Scotland could reap from harnessing the power of data describing it as “a modern Scottish success story.”
To support this ambition, she said the Holyrood is taking important steps to increase Scotland’s digital skills and its appeal to a global talent pool.
Organisations, such as The Data Lab and CodeClan, the First Minister said, are playing a crucial role in both the cultivation of Scotland’s future data talent and the education of people across the country seeking to move into this sector.
“Together with the UK Government, we are backing a city deal, which aims to make Edinburgh and the surrounding region the data capital of Europe,” she said.
“We’re doing all of that because we understand the obvious and huge economic opportunity that there is. Studies suggest that across the economy as a whole, businesses could soon be benefiting from £3.8 billion per year if they use data more effectively.
“Now, that’s a big sum of money, which to put that in a Scottish context, is equivalent to £700 per person living in Scotland. So that’s the magnitude of the economic benefit we stand to gain. But we know, and this is an equally important point, those economic benefits go hand in hand with wider public benefits.”
The ethical and transparent use of data was another key issue the First Minister highlighted. The previous two years have seen a number of highly damaging data scandals, with Cambridge Analytica’s alleged role in data harvesting during the Brexit referendum permeating the airwaves.
The weaponisation and misuse of consumer data has sparked a public awakening of ‘big data’ and precisely how this data can be used – or abused.
“We also know, and have to be very aware, that nothing of this – just like anything else in life – comes without potential downsides. And we have to be open and frank in dealing with those downsides, mitigating against them,” she said.
“As with every major economic change, we have seen down the ages that there is a big duty on government to ensure that people don’t get left behind and that data and AI help to create a better and fairer society as well as a wealthier one.
“The key point is that using data ethically must not be seen as a barrier to using data effectively. It is a prerequisite for it and, at the end of the day, it’s the only sustainable way to maintain the public’s trust as we secure the benefits that big data can deliver for us.
“Commitment to innovation and inventiveness, entrepreneurship should be part of our future. We want Scotland to be a country that is inventing, designing and developing key technologies of the future rather than relying on those that invented elsewhere.”