‘WE have emerged with the powerful hope that the coming of the Scottish Parliament will usher in a way of politics that is radically different from the rituals of Westminster; more participative, more creative, less needlessly confrontational … (more) … a culture of openness which will enable the people of Scotland to see how decisions are being taken in their name, and why. The Parliament we propose is much more than a mere institutional adjustment. It is a means, not an end.”

Wise and prophetic words form the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1995.

Prior to being reconvened, many in our country felt profoundly disenfranchised from political life, and with the advent of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, our country seemed to awaken from a long slumber into a political renewal forged in the heat of the poll tax and mass deindustrialisation.

This was not an auspicious start, yet the Scottish Parliament set the standard for digital participation and electronic voting long before a global pandemic forced Westminster into a short-lived tryst with a very effective and innovative mobile voting system. Holyrood had one of the first truly accessible parliamentary websites, it was built from scratch, without being hamstrung by the establishment and oddities of historic privilege. Even restructuring the civil service played a part in our national reawakening, with an eventual bonfire of the quangos that had under previous UK Tory governments been unaccountable and stuffed with political appointees, the Scottish Parliament sought to re-establish the essential independence of the structures of government. It was the late Canon Kenyon Wright who exposed the debasement of our country under the British constitution.

“We came to see that if Mrs Thatcher could so insure the powers of her office, the Crown prerogatives, the extant of privilege and the parliamentary system to cut down all real power elsewhere in the name of spurious individualism, then any future [UK] Prime Minister could do the same. We realised that our real enemy was not a particular government whatever its colour, but a constitutional system. We came to understand that our central need, if we were to be governed justly and democratically was not just to change the Government but to change the rules.”

The Canon’s words could easily be reiterated today with a mere change to the Prime Ministers name, though let’s not be down heartened – be mindful how far we have travelled and how much further we will be able to go with the full control of our governance and destiny.

If we are as Canon Kenyon Wright had hoped, to govern ourselves justly and democratically in the 21st century, then we as a country require to build on the bedrock of the institutions we have built since 1999 and ensure that we are a fully digitally participative society and use technology to improve public services.

If we are to build on our recent past, we must reflect on the work done so far and an essential document on the journey since 1999 is the Christie Report on Public Service Reform. In his forward the late Dr Campbell Christie, former General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, was clear of the challenges that lay ahead and I hope you will allow me to quote him at some length.

“Reforming the delivery of these [public] services is not only a matter of fiscal necessity. We also have to implement reforms that improve the quality of public services to better meet the needs of the people and the communities they seek to support.”

Dr Christie was well aware of the challenges that lay ahead and still challenge us today: “Experience tells us that all institutions and structures resist change, especially radical change. However, the scale of the challenges ahead is such that a comprehensive public service reform process must now be initiated involving all stakeholders.”

THE work of reform is now being led by the Cabinet Sectary for Finance and Digital Economy Kate Forbes and she is leading from the front: “Through necessity we have seen societies embrace new technologies and innovation at a rate and scale that would ordinarily have taken years. The Scottish Government must play its role in maintaining the speed and momentum, moving at pace towards a new and high-tech, low-carbon economy

In the weeks ahead I want propose opportunities, challenges and the possibilities for a radical digital nation building on the work of the Christie Report and the Scottish Government, digital options not for their own sake but to enable us to use the further powers afforded by independence to build a more democratic and just Scotland. By reflecting on the Estonian experience, I hope we will recognise that independence offers us the nation, the opportunity to design the infrastructure of our state by embracing the radical opportunities we can see in Estonia, which have been brought about by positive public policy choices.

How in the 21st century we must all understand the importance of data and its actual value to us as individuals, communities and as a nation; how digitisation will and must play a major part in health and wellbeing, knowledge and learning, justice, international affairs, the economy and security.

We heard the wise words from the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1995 at the start of this article, in ending it let me paraphrase the quote for a digital age: one in which Scotland is more digitally participative, more digitally creative and has at its heart a digital culture of openness which will enable the people of Scotland to see how in the digital age decisions are being taken in our name, and why. The nation we propose is much more than a mere constitutional adjustment. It is a means, not an end.