Menu
Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe

Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine

Subscribe

Subscribe to Holyrood
by Sofia Villegas
26 June 2024
Overview: Manifesto pledges on technology

Alamy

Overview: Manifesto pledges on technology

Technology has become both a friend and an enemy to the UK, offering opportunities to improve public services while turbo-charging threats targeting the most vulnerable.

The tech sector employs 1.7 million people and contributes more than £150bn to the UK economy every year, meaning unlocking the power of the digital revolution has become a priority for economic progress and sustainability.

However, the unprecedented advancement of cutting-edge tools such as AI has also catalysed both fraud and online abuse crises.

So, as legislators play catch-up, getting the correct balance between control and innovation has become a central issue for those standing in the general election.

Holyrood takes a look at the key tech policy takeaways from party manifestos.

Regulation

Labour has pledged to create a new Regulatory Innovation Office to help policymakers move at pace with technology. The aim of the office would be to “update regulation, speed up approval timelines, and co-ordinate issues that span existing boundaries”.

To further ensure technology develops at an adequate speed, Labour would introduce legislation targeting those companies developing the most advanced AI models.  

The Scottish Conservatives’ biggest legislation pledges focus on food security. The party aims to replicate the UK Government’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act in Scotland, so farmers can produce pest-resistant crops and compete on a level playing field across the UK.

The party would also support the national roll-out of full-fibre broadband and 5G to every Scottish town and business.

Keeping children safe

The Online Safety Act is one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation passed by the UK Parliament last year.

Created to make the UK "the safest place in the world to be online", the law holds tech firms responsible for preventing algorithms recommending harmful content to children.

However, since its introduction bereaved parents have come out to suggest the bill does not go far enough, a stance that has hardened with the ongoing rise of online sexploitation cases.

To tackle the issue, the Conservatives have pledged to launch a consultation to introduce additional parental controls over social media and support a ban on mobile phones in schools.

In February, the UK Government launched a “crackdown” on the use of phones in schools, publishing guidelines to ensure a consistent approach across all premises.

Similarly, the SNP has pledged to ensure the Online Safety Act comes into full force “on time”. The party will have its MPs work to ensure tech firms are held accountable for the content published on their platforms and lobby the UK Government to strengthen these laws "when required”.

On its end, Labour has pledged to ban the creation of sexual deepfakes.

Transforming the NHS

Scottish Labour has pledged to scale up virtual care, to ensure health and care services are accessible to those in Rural Scotland and support those living with chronic conditions.

It will roll out e-prescribing across Scottish GPs, as well as e-patient records, to ensure relevant data is shared amongst health boards if a patient consents to it.

It will also review the NHS procurement strategies, so it is easier to introduce AI-assisted technology across health boards.

Conservatives' pledges around digital transformation centre around delivering a ‘My NHS Scotland’ app.

In it, patients could book appointments, check living waiting for data, and access a single digital medical red.

The Tories would also lobby for greater use of robotics in surgery, AI-enable diagnostics, and wearables at home to improve patient monitoring.

The SNP manifesto is vaguer on how it will use technology to transform the NHS, pleading to “prioritise” AI research and investment to unlock its potential to support our public services in an “open, ethical and transparent” way.

Education reform

Though education is devolved, Scottish Labour has outlined a plan to adapt the education system so children are “equipped with the skills they need for work and life”. It will make digital skills have a bigger weight on the school curriculum, with an overarching aim being that Scottish children have some of the highest digital literacy levels within a decade. 

The pledge comes almost four years after the Scottish technology ecosystem review recommended that schools should treat computing science like maths or physics to fix the tech talent pipeline.

The Conservatives’ pledges focus on education at a later stage, promising to double digital and AI expertise in the civil service, “to take advantage of the latest technologies to transform public services”.

Funding boosts

Scottish Labour has pledged to create a National Data Library, to bring together research programmes. Doing so, it hopes to deliver data-driven public services.  

Another central pledge by Labour at both a UK and Scottish level is implementing 10-year budgets for research and development (R&D) institutions. Currently, the funding cycle usually runs on a five-year basis. It hopes doing so will allow institutions more time to create stronger “meaningful” partnerships.

The Conservatives would increase public spending on R&D to £22bn a year. The party has also pledged to scale R&D funding to a minimum of five per cent of the defence budget to accelerate the modernisation of the UK Armed Forces, together with an additional two per cent to exploit that R&D and develop new weapons systems

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Sofia Villegas - UK employers optimistic about AI, poll finds.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Subscribe

Popular reads
Back to top