Digital futures: What do the main parties’ manifestos for the Scottish election say about IT?
Posted on 27th April 2016
According to PG Wodehouse, in days gone by, the basic promise of every political party seeking your vote was a chicken in every pot. While that may have attracted a 1920’s rustic, today, country-wide, superfast broadband is a more likely vote-winning promise (yet to be delivered), but with the Scottish election coming up I thought it was worth looking at each political party’s manifesto to see what, if anything, they say about Scotland’s digital industries. After all, it’s not as if this is an unimportant subject, especially given that a year ago ScotlandIS told us, “Some 80,000 people are said to work in the digital technologies industry in Scotland, which is estimated to contribute £4 billion GVA (gross value added) to the economy, and increasingly adding to export revenues.” Today, it’s estimated this figure is £5 billion GVA.
Before we get into what the manifestos say, or don’t say, it’s probably important to state that none of the following is intended to suggest which way you should vote, nor indeed which way I intend to vote. It’s also worth noting that, having never read a full manifesto before, there are an awful lot of promises that I suspect won’t all be lived up to. Nevertheless, what do our political parties say about IT, digital industries, STEM, or any of the things that make up my – and probably your – daily lives?
Well, the first thing to record is that the answer is, in the main, not much. In the case of the Scottish Labour Party, nothing at all, largely because I couldn’t find their manifesto anywhere online. A bit more digging revealed that it’s not going to be published until eight days before the election (so it may be out by the time you read this) but in the meantime there is nothing to go on other than what their high heid’uns are saying to the press. I did read (speed read to be honest) through all the parties’ manifestos, and the two that actually seem to say most specifically about IT are those unlikely bedfellows, the Conservatives and the Greens. The latter, in their manifesto’s section on education, say, “The curriculum should also reflect modern industries, such as computer programming, bioscience, the creative industries and technological innovation” and then has a whole section called “Scotland can become digital”, which notes that “access to the internet is becoming vital. Greens will seek to ensure that digital access is available for all…Households and businesses throughout Scotland should have the opportunity to connect (via high speed broadband) for social, health and economic reasons,” before noting that “The digital technology industry generates £5 billion per year for our economy. However, many firms have expressed difficulty in finding people with the right skills. Not only that, but having the appropriate skills would allow more people to participate in digital life. Green MSPs would call for transferable digital skills to be taught in schools and for businesses to better engage with the education sector on the issue.”
The Conservatives are, I think, the only party to mention STEM specifically in their manifesto (and I’m sure if I’m wrong someone will tell me!), noting, again under their Education bit, “We should look to support the best high- achieving graduates who are interested in getting into teaching via the postgraduate route, especially in STEM subjects,” and then going on to say (as the other parties all do in their different ways), “We will secure the delivery of superfast broadband in urban and rural areas to provide coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017,” with a lot more in a similar vein about rural broadband and mobile coverage, before noting, in general terms, their commitment to science, thus, “We will continue to invest in science, back our industrial strategies and make Britain the technology centre of Europe. Science is worthwhile in its own right and yields enormous practical benefits too.”
The SNP, who, barring an amazing sea-change of voting intentions, are clearly going to win the Scottish election, promise much the same in their manifesto, stating, “Our aim is to deliver a future-proofed infrastructure that will establish world-class digital connectivity across Scotland by 2020, including tackling the digital divide. That is why we are investing in Superfast Broadband, so that at least 95 per cent of premises across Scotland will be able to access fibre broadband by the end of 2017,” before going on to say, “Our aim is to deliver a future-proofed infrastructure that will establish world-class digital connectivity.” While that one is very much from the realm of manifesto “aims” rather than specific promises, there is one area where Scotland is a recognised leader, viz, computer games, and here the SNP recognises something that is important for recruiters, namely the need to allow genuine talent to come to work here in areas of skill shortages, stating, “We support the creation of a Creative Content Fund for the games industry to encourage the formation of new studios and also back the retention of the Video Games tax relief. We back industry calls for an increase in the SEIS investment limit and changes to the Shortage Occupation List to recognise specific skills needs in the sector.” That is something IT recruiters should welcome and lobby for it to be extended to other areas, not just Video Games.
UKIP has, perhaps surprisingly, the most ‘digital’ manifesto, in that it is a proper, online, ‘turn-the-pages’ brochure, not simply a pdf. It does not say anything that I can see about technology, but it does have (perhaps reflecting Mr Farage’s interests?) a section on “Saving the Scottish pub”!
Finally, the Liberal Democrats manifesto has the same sort of commitments to rural broadband (e.g. “Complete coverage of super-fast broadband and mobile phone across Scotland, using additional support from our Fit For The Future Investment Fund for innovative ways to do this”) as the others so it’s clearly something they all regard as important. I can’t see much else that is technology specific in the Lib Dems manifesto, other than general pledges to create “A strong, productive economy (and)…we will make sure the investment in education delivers the extra skills that Scottish business needs to improve productivity and succeed.”
All in all, from the perspective of an industry that generates a shedload of revenue (and tax), there are not a lot of specifics but a lot of good intentions and aims (they are politicians after all!). Some parties seem overtly to recognise technology’s importance more than others, but I’m sure that all of them, when/if pressed, will agree with me that whoever wins the Scottish election will need to ensure that they create a business environment where the digital/computing industries (and, of course, all other industry and commerce) can grow and prosper.
Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing
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