Technology featured heavily in the SNP’s Programme for Government this week, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed to “get on with the job of building a better country”.
The programme, she said, puts people’s health, prosperity and wellbeing at its heart.
Scottish Government key targets for this time next year:
- 80,000 families will be benefiting from more than 1,000 hours of free childcare a year.
- The Government will have delivered 30,000 modern apprenticeship starts.
- The Government will be even further on the way to delivering 50,000 affordable homes.
- The Government will have introduced a further four social security payments.
- The Government will have established a Scottish National Investment Bank.
- The Government will have confirmed our global leadership in the fight against climate change.
“This programme sets out actions for the next 12 months, which will make a difference for years to come,” Sturgeon said. “It details measures that can help make our country the best in the world in which to grow up, learn, work and live. It meets the challenges of the future, while staying true to our enduring values.”
But what role will technology play in developing this vision of Scotland’s future?
Tackling climate change will be central to the investment decisions the Scottish Government makes.
“One area where we must act is transport, currently responsible for more than a third of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions,” noted Sturgeon.
“Firstly, we will continue to support the growth in electric and ultra low emission car use as part of our aim to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032.”
Scotland already has one of the most comprehensive charging networks in Europe.
Last week, Sturgeon announced a new partnership between the Scottish Government, Scottish Power and SSE to deliver more charging points and the electricity infrastructure to support them.
Over the next year, the Government also intends to help more businesses and consumers buy ultra low emission vehicles, including second hand ones, with a further £17 million of low carbon transport loans.
On aviation, Sturgeon has announced a “bold aim” to make the Highlands and Islands the world’s first zero emission aviation region, with flights and airport operations fully decarbonised.
The Governments will trial low or zero emission flights during 2021 – quite literally piloting new technology here in Scotland.
“And we intend to decarbonise all flights between airports within Scotland by 2040,” Sturgeon added.
“We will also continue to electrify Scotland’s railways. Around three quarters of passenger journeys in Scotland already use electrified lines.”
That proportion is expected to continue to grow. Where electrification is not practical or desirable, the Scottish Government will invest in battery-powered trains, and explore the potential of hydrogen powered trains. Detailed timescales for this work are expected to be outlined in the spring of 2020.
“However, I can confirm today our overall aim,” said Sturgeon. “Scotland’s rail services will be decarbonised by 2035 – 5 years ahead of the UK ambition.
“Of course, the vast majority of public transport journeys in Scotland are by bus. In the past eight years, the Scottish Government has supported the purchase of almost 500 low emission buses. But we need to do much more.”
The Government will work with the new Scottish National Investment Bank, the bus sector and potential investors to seek new forms of financing.
By doing so, it aims to significantly increase the use of low emission buses across Scotland.
“However, if we want to encourage more people to travel by bus, we must also make it a quicker and more reliable option,” Sturgeon noted.
Therefore, she announced a major capital investment programme, which she described as “transformational”.
Over the next few years, the Government will work with councils on the design and delivery of schemes to reduce congestion through new priority routes for buses in and around our towns and cities.
“And I can confirm that we will back this with new investment of more than half a billion pounds,” Sturgeon revealed.
“Last, but by no means least, we will continue to support active travel.”
Last year, the Government doubled its annual investment in cycling and walking from £40 million to £80 million. This level of investment will be maintained, according to Sturgeon. This is currently enabling 11 large-scale projects, the first of which, Glasgow’s South City Way, will be completed next year.
Sturgeon said: “Lowering emissions from transport – especially in our cities – is essential for the environment, but also for our health and wellbeing.
“The next phase of Glasgow’s low emission zone will start next year, and we expect low emission zones to be in place in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.
“However, I can also confirm today that we will consult on the further steps we need to take now to achieve the transition to zero emission city centres by 2030.”
Sturgeon revealed that publicly owned Scottish Water – the biggest purchaser of electricity in Scotland – has committed to becoming a net zero company by 2040.
And by 2030, it will aim to produce or host three times more renewable energy than it consumes.
“Many of the steps I have outlined so far to reduce emissions from transport and heating are dependent on a decarbonised electricity supply,” said Sturgeon. “So we will continue to support renewable energy.”
Next year, the Scottish Government plans to publish an action plan for the development of hydrogen.
A new Offshore Wind policy statement will set out our plans for the sector, including how Scotland can secure more economic and supply chain benefit from our offshore wind resources.
“I know, and understand why, many climate change campaigners argue that part of our response to the climate emergency should be the immediate withdrawal of support for oil and gas,” Sturgeon said.
“However, aside from offshore licensing and regulation being reserved matters, the hard fact is that early closure of domestic production – before we are able to meet all demand from zero carbon sources – would be likely to increase emissions, because a significant proportion of the oil that would then require to be imported has a higher carbon intensity than UK production.”
However, the oil and gas sector does have a bigger role to play, she noted.
In line with this, she confirmed that the Government’s support for oil and gas will now be conditional on the sector’s actions to help ensure a sustainable energy transition. As part of that, the Government will work with the Oil and Gas Technology Centre to help develop renewable technologies that can be integrated with our existing oil and gas infrastructure.
One of those technologies is carbon capture, utilisation and storage.
“Scotland has the potential to store huge quantities of carbon dioxide under the North Sea,” said Sturgeon.
“We will work with the Scottish National Investment Bank to explore how we can help industry develop this technology, and continue to press the UK Government to develop the UK-wide frameworks needed to make it a success.
“Scotland has the opportunity to become a world leader in this essential industry of the future – we must take that opportunity.”
Jobs and Skills
The Just Transition Commission will produce an interim report in early 2020 on how the decarbonisation of Scotland’s economy can reduce inequality and promote decent, fair, high-value work.
“The challenge of guaranteeing good jobs is also why I am announcing that we will develop and publish a climate emergency skills action plan,” Sturgeon explained. “This will build on the Future Skills Action Plan that is being published later today.
To guarantee good jobs, Scotland must ensure that people have the skills needed for new techniques in construction, energy efficiency, manufacturing and transport.
“Skills training – not simply for young people, but for people at all stages of their working life – is an essential part of ensuring that people are not left behind by technological change,” Sturgeon said.
“And I can confirm that from spring next year, assuming we get the cooperation we need from the UK government, young people will start to receive the Job Start Payment – a new payment to help around 5,000 young people with expenses, such as travel costs and new clothing, when they return to work after a period of unemployment.”
The Scottish Government has launched a new Foreign Direct Investment plan to attract new investment in key sectors of the economy.
“The plan will also enable us to offer support to start-ups specialising in technology or low-carbon industries anywhere in the world, if they choose to relocate to Scotland,” Sturgeon explained. “We will also continue to pursue a balanced approach to taxation.”
The Programme for Government also includes important measures to protect communities.
Sturgeon said: “We will support our fire and rescue service, and protect the police budget. Among other things, this support will enable police officers to spend more time in their communities through the use of mobile technology.”
Sturgeon explained that the Scottish Government want to continue to deliver improved digital infrastructure to all parts of the country.
“Our commitment to provide access to superfast broadband for every home and business in Scotland is the most ambitious of any government in the UK,” she said.
The £600 million R100 programme is expected to take superfast broadband coverage from its current level of more than 90% to 100%. By the end of this year, the Government will have awarded the contract to deliver it.
“We will also work to ensure that Scotland’s economy benefits from strong international connections,” Sturgeon added.