‘LITTLE else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.”

Adam Smith may have viewed easy taxes in a slightly different manner to myself and many of you reading this article, yet I think at least on this part of our digital journey he would have agreed that easy taxes are by and large easy if they are collected efficiently and allow for transparency in their collection. It is then up for the duly elected government to consider what type of taxes to collect, and in an independent Scotland that will be directed by the sovereign will of the Scottish people.

When Estonia set out on the path of digitisation, it did so firstly having considered many previous attempts and notably the over-centralised approach that many governments, even to this day, take when looking at technology and the software that allows a tax system to work. Most, if not all, are cumbersome, bureaucratic and filled with loopholes.

Why, then, has a nation of 1.5 million been able to digitise its tax system and importantly used that process to inform other government departments and the delivery of public service, when so many others have failed?

On our digital journey I have already pointed out ways in which political leadership based on knowledge has generated a critical force which has enabled Estonia to reach this point in the digitising of its government infrastructure; from a nation on its political and economic knees 20 years ago, you can now do mostly everything in Estonia digitally, bar getting married, buying a house or getting divorced.

So, putting aside Estonia’s tax regime, that is the political approach to tax, which is changing, the early digitisation of its tax system was a strategic political decision which they hoped would have consequences for every other department of government, from health, and education to defence and foreign policy.

They were right, and the former prime minister Taavi Roivas summed up the approach best: “We made a very conscious choice to build shared platforms with X-Road and joint digital identity, rather than allow diverse development. The idea was also to put in place the right conditions so that digital innovation can flourish in all parts of the public sector and society, bottom up. If some areas fall behind, we try to lead by example and kick start things top-down”.

Seeing the public sector as an innovator is a concept some in Scotland find very hard to understand, that may be due to a limited knowledge of how well our public sector is doing and also a notion that only the private sector can lead the innovation charge. Estonia recognised from the word go that the public sector is a hotbed of innovation and diverse digital ability and so the digital journey followed what most governments do – the money.

The Estonian Tax Board became the first fully digitised department of government in 2000, leading the charge on how in its own remit, digitisation could maximise tax collection and reduce corruption to ensure that Estonia could lift itself out of the mire of the post-Soviet world. Today in Estonia it takes about three minutes to do your taxes online and 98% of people do so.

The important part of this radical digital agenda was to show how a public sector authority could enhance its public service to the citizen. This is an agenda of improvement and not rationalisation. It is an agenda that puts the citizen at the heart of decision making and allows for enhanced transparency and has had a domino effect on every other department of government; basically, both citizens and departments recognised that digitisation would enhance the delivery of public services. Unsurprisingly, department after department wanted to get onboard and join the digital journey.

So, the dominoes (barriers of bureaucracy) began to fall with the creation of the X-Road in 2002 enabling every aspect of local and central government to remain autonomous and interconnected – thus becoming the backbone of e-Estonia, allowing the public sectors information systems to link and provide 99% of public services online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Estonia recognised that even though they had limited resources, that the creation of a national integration platform was essential in enabling stability and development, not only in public service, but to also bolster and secure their independence. In doing so, Estonia has overcome the issues of ever-increasing data exchange costs across departments, leaks of citizens personal information and the deeply worrying issue of unsecure databases so many democratic nations have. It’s a lesson worth learning as Scotland once again becomes a sovereign independent nation.

Radical digital proposal: an independent Scotland to plan for the full digitisation of Revenue Scotland, which now has responsibility for the collection and management of devolved taxes, enabling information to be input online without downloading a PDF document and having to be completed then sent via email or post; then the creation of a Scottish digital X-Road – call it the Tartan Brae if you must – but let’s get it done. Our nation and its independence will be enhanced and secured by it.