A changing nation: how Scotland will thrive in a digital world

This strategy sets out the measures which will ensure that Scotland will fulfil its potential in a constantly evolving digital world.

An Ethical Digital Nation

Growing as an ethical digital nation and developing trust in the way we use data and apply digital technology is a collective responsibility. A recent report by the OECD observed that “Trust is the foundation upon which the legitimacy of public institutions is built and is crucial for maintaining social cohesion… public trust leads to greater compliance with regulations… trust is necessary to increase the confidence of investors and consumers.”[10] Although the social and economic benefits of this approach are clear, we must always be aware that it takes a long time to build trust, but a much shorter time to lose it.

Evidence suggests that to be confident, digital technology users need to trust that their rights and privacy are protected, that the technology is reliable and secure, and, critically, that service and product providers are truthful, transparent and can be trusted. An ethical digital nation must go beyond the protection of individual data and privacies which are existing legal rights, and engage fully with all sectors and the general public to understand their concerns and the trade-offs and choices they are prepared to make.

Image of a young girl using a laptop

While the use of technology and of data can be hugely transformational, it raises important and new questions about the kind of society we want to be. It generates concerns about personal privacy and digital security; about the way facts can become distorted through social media; and about the way governments work with, and regulate, the global digital technologies industry.

There is a need for clear statements on fairness, freedom of choice and transparency that balance the needs of the individual, society and the market taking account of rights and responsibilities, all aspects of inclusion and environmental impact. We must design and deliver products and services that use data and digital technologies in transparent, honest and inclusive ways and build trust by ensuring that we protect personal privacy and empower people to be informed users and to control their personal information.

Where we are now

An expert group has been commissioned to gather evidence to develop recommendations and a framework of digital ethics for Scotland. Public engagement has been placed at the centre of this work, with a number of public sessions held to inform and direct findings. Recommendations from the expert group are due in 2021 and will form the basis of our future approach. Already, we have begun providing a means for privacy and ethics issues to be discussed candidly, transparently and in open and mutually respectful environments.

We have also had success in demonstrating the ethical use of data. The Data for Children Collaborative seeks to improve the wellbeing of children locally, nationally and globally, by using data and data science techniques to solve societal problems. Projects include the development of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot to rebut rumours, myths and misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, to allow children to develop their understanding of the dangers posed by coronavirus;[11] and work to understand how isolation, school closure and exam cancellation caused by the pandemic affects the mental health of the young people in Scotland.[12]

Digital platforms open up the potential for government to consult more widely, share more openly and to involve people across Scotland to boost individual and collective wellbeing, both at a national level, and with respect to decisions made locally. However, the 2019 Scottish Household survey showed that just 18% of adults agreed that they can influence decisions affecting their local area, while 30% said they would like to be more involved in decisions affecting their local area. We have seen significant developments in response to the pandemic from local authorities, the third sector and other organisations to engage communities through digital means, which will provide a platform from which to build moving forward.

To encourage openness and engagement, Scotland is a member of the Open Government Partnership: an international collaboration of 90 governments committed to openness, transparency and citizen participation. As part of Scotland’s Open Government Action Plan 2018-2020, the Scottish Government has set a number of commitments, which have been set in association with Open Government civil society representatives.[13] The Scottish Government has committed to improving the way in which data is used and shared. We have participated in the delivering of the activities within the data commitment for the Scotland’s Open Government Action Plan 2018-2020. We are in the initial stages of scoping out the activities for any data commitment within the next Open Government Action Plan.

Where we want to be

Our vision is for a society where people can trust public services and businesses to respect privacy and be open and honest in the way data is being used. But this is about more than the use of data. It is about trust, fair and rewarding work, democratic, social and cultural inclusion, climate change, the circular economy and making sure that the raw materials used in production are ethically sourced.

A place where children and vulnerable people are protected from harm. Where digital technologies adopt the principles of privacy, resilience and harm reduction by design and are inclusive, fair and useful. This is not simple, nor quick work – but it is what we must work towards.

An ethical digital nation will allow people to enjoy their rights and freedoms by accessing information and education, communicating with their families and staying safe and secure online with confidence in the systems, products and services they choose to use. It will allow businesses to flourish in an environment where there is a skilled workforce with ethical codes that consider the needs of society, the customer and the environment as well as the company. It will also enable the public sector to provide tailored services where the individual is in control of how their information is shared and that add value to the lives of everyone in Scotland.

This reaches far beyond Scotland’s borders, or even the powers that we have in national and local government. The way we respond to these, and to other emerging issues, is critical to the kind of country and society we aspire to be. The ability to influence decisions made in international arenas requires us to be recognised internationally as an ethical and secure digital nation, and to have the confidence to engage with citizen groups, communities, regulators, businesses, companies, academics and other governments on a global level. It will also help to attract digital and data talent and provide a platform on which to implement the principles set out in our Vision for Trade[14] - inclusive growth, wellbeing, sustainability, net zero and good governance – as we seek new markets, and work to manage and mitigate the considerable risks arising from EU-Exit.

As we face up to these challenges, the need for increased community engagement and involvement in decision-making will be more vital than ever before.

Digital platforms open up the potential for government to consult more widely, share openly and involve people across Scotland in shaping how we grow and thrive in a digital world. Consistent with open government principles, we will engage openly with people on issues such as privacy, ethics, and inclusion. We will listen to their voice and views, acting transparently to explain how we take decisions and being accountable for our performance.

At the same time, we need to maintain Scotland’s reputation as an ethical place to do business in line with our recently published Vision for Trade.[15] We will place ethical considerations at the heart of all we do, and ensure that a digital Scotland is recognised as a country whose products and services can be trusted at home and overseas. We believe that Scotland’s values-led approach to investment as outlined in Scotland’s Inward Investment Plan: Shaping Scotland’s Economy[16] underlines our commitment to processes that ensure foreign investment into Scotland is assessed in a transparent way to ensure Scottish interests are protected and potential investors reassured. We also welcome proposals by the United Kingdom Government for a National Security and Investment Bill to strengthen current legislation to bring us in-line with other countries and provide clarity to potential investors.

How we are going to get there

  • Set out a vision of an ethical digital nation: based upon the recommendations of our Expert Group and subsequent discussions with the public, stakeholders and civic society on its implication and the guidance this requires. We will embed the ethical framework and principles that are agreed into the way we design and build digital public services and conduct digital trade. In doing this, we aim to build trust that the technologies we use are designed with integrity, public benefit, are transparent and use a human rights based approach. We will do this through open dialogue with the public, as well as with experts and the wider digital sector. Leadership Icon
  • Build public trust in the use of data: We will provide service users with even greater assurance that we are using their data effectively for public benefit, efficiently and securely to deliver high quality public services. This will include further enhancement of our Information Governance practices, ensuring that cyber resilience and cyber security principles are built into all aspects of data solutions and mitigating the risk of data manipulation by malicious actors. We will also continue to inform individuals of ways of keeping their own information safe, including through our Digital Identity Programme. Inclusive Icon
  • Make more of our data available openly: We will renew our focus, building on the principles set out in Scotland’s open data strategy, [17], [18] to open up access to data, which will improve transparency and accountability, digital inclusion, open government and create economic opportunity. We will also ensure that digital technology improves access to data about local needs and assets to allow people to make informed decisions in their communitiesData Driven Icon
  • Increase community engagement and participation:We will use digital technology to facilitate better community engagement and participation, further developing approaches such as online consultation and participatory budgeting. This will ensure that people can play an increased role in decision making in the issues that matter to them, wherever they live in Scotland. Inclusive Icon
  • Engage with confidence on the international stage: We believe that as an outward looking, ethical digital nation we can make a significant contribution to the international debate around cyber security and cyber resilience, privacy, digital rights, artificial intelligence and the regulation of technology and the organisations that have come to dominate world markets. We will build alliances of like-minded governments and engage with NGOs that are leading these debates. We will also build on the foundations established by Scotland’s membership of the Wellbeing Economy Government (WEGo) group to play our part in international action to promote digital trade, tackle the climate emergency and create smart economies based on the humane use of technology.  Collaborative Icon
  • Digital Rights: We will make sure that all of our approaches to establishing an ethical digital nation balance digital rights with the responsibility at both an individual and government level to be accountable for our actions through independent scrutiny. This will ensure public benefit, rather than commercial value, is our driving force and that actions taken are transparent and outcomes are clearly established. Inclusive Icon
  • Use Scotland’s data capabilities to address climate change targets: For example, by extending our Earth Observation programme to monitor peatland restoration and waste monitoring, and building on the work of our AI for Good Climate Change programme. Innovative Icon 

Alignment to our National Performance Framework


We will;

  1. set out a vision of an ethical digital nation;
  2. build public trust in data;
  3. open up access to data;
  4. use digital technology to increase community engagement and participation;
  5. ensure that Scotland engages with confidence on the international stage;
  6. balance digital rights with the responsibility to be accountable for our actions;
  7. use our data capability to address climate change targets.
NPF Alignment
NPF Human Rights Icon

Human Rights - We respect, protect and fulfil human rights and live free from discrimination.

NPF Children Icon

Children & Young People - We grow up loved, safe and respected so that we realise our full potential.

NPF International Icon

International - We are open, connected and make a positive contribution internationally.

NPF Communities Icon Communities - We live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe



10 http://www.oecd.org/gov/trust-in-government.htm

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