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General Election 2019: the Scottish National Party’s technology policies and digital plans

With the UK gearing up for its third General Election in four years, Computer Weekly outlines the Scottish National Party’s main technology policies and digital plans, as laid out in its manifesto

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has proposed a “Green Energy Deal” to support investment in green energy schemes, classifying the internet as an essential service and setting out wide-ranging legislation to protect children from online harm.

It its 50-page manifesto, released on 27 November, the SNP also committed to campaigning for the UK government to match Scotland’s target of 2032 for electric vehicles, and pressing for the accelerated deployment of other green technologies, such as carbon capture and storage.

“We have a moral responsibility to tackle climate change and will lead the way in showing how our society can transition to net-zero emissions while creating economic opportunity and providing the assurance of rewarding work for all,” said the manifesto.

“Independence would allow us to go even further, and not rely on a UK government for action on reserved areas – a reliance that has seen them reduce support for renewables, undermine the drive towards carbon capture and storage and fail to live up to the challenge of the climate emergency.”

Below is a breakdown of the SNP manifesto’s main digital plans and technology policies.

Technology and the environment

With the climate emergency at the top of this election agenda, the SNP is no exception, making a number of promises that it believes will help the UK transition to net-zero emissions.

The main plank of the SNP’s environmental policies is its support for a Green Energy Deal, which its says “will ensure green energy schemes get the long-term certainty needed to support investment”.

The SNP also says the Green Energy Deal will deliver a wave and tidal energy industrial strategy, support a diesel scrappage scheme for people trading in ultra-low-emission vehicles, and challenge the Conservatives on plans to quadruple the VAT on home solar panels.

On top of this, the SNP will demand that the next UK government accelerates its actions to meet climate change targets that have already been set in Scotland.

This includes a 75% reduction in emissions by 2035 (with net-zero carbon emissions no later than 2040 and net-zero all emissions by 2045), and a move to electric vehicles by 2032.

Although there is no specific timeframe, the SNP will also push for the accelerated deployment of fully operational carbon capture and storage facilities.

“For too long, reckless Tory policies have damaged the environment,” said the manifesto. “From fracking – which harms wildlife, causes disruption and threatens to contaminate soil and water – to tax hikes on solar power and reducing support for offshore wind, recent UK governments have taken the wrong path on climate change.”

To put the UK back on track, the SNP said it will support “substantial reforms to the UK tax system to support greener choices”.

As such, SNP MPs will campaign for tax incentives that will help people switch to low-carbon heating systems, promote the use of electric vehicles and make the energy in their homes more affordable.

The party said it will also establish a number of funds and invest heavily to make the transition to a greener economy smoother.

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“The UK Office for Budget Responsibility estimate that oil and gas revenues will be worth £8.5bn over the five years to 2023-24,” said the manifesto. “We will press for that revenue to be put to work in building the transition to a greener, sustainable future.

“We will demand the ring-fencing of oil and gas receipts, creating a Net Zero Fund to help pay for the energy transition through investment in areas such as renewable energy, electric vehicles and carbon capture utilisation and storage.”

It would also provide a further £17m to fund loans to help people with the cost of low-emission vehicles and secondhand cars, and £500mn would be put aside to help improve bus infrastructure and reduce railway emissions to zero by 2035.

The SNP said 12% of the Net Zero Fund – at least £1bn over five years – will go towards a Net Zero Industrial Strategy to help diversify the economies of oil hubs such as Aberdeen and Falkirk.

It also plans to bring to market a £3bn portfolio of green projects, which would include renewables, waste and construction, and establish a “Green Growth Accelerator” that would combine public and private investment to “transform cities and regions”.

Education and skills also play a small role in the SNP’s environmental strategy. For example, there is a plan for the Michelin plant in Dundee to be transformed into the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc – a centre for low-carbon skills and innovation – with a £30m investment from the company, matched by the Scottish government.

The SNP said its “Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan” will promote a “fair and inclusive jobs market” by supporting Scottish people in gaining the skills needed to exist in a technologically advanced economy. 

Internet regulations and digital accessibility

Another big focus area in the SNP manifesto is protecting citizens, particularly children, from online harms.

SNP MPs will campaign for new laws to deal with this issue. This includes putting in place new measures, such as a statutory duty of care, to force social media, gaming and technology companies to protect their users properly and tackle unsuitable content.

The party also proposes appointing an “online regulator” with the power to take action through heavy fines and blocking access to sites, as well as age verification for sites that are not suitable for children.

A levy for technology companies would be implemented to fully fund the regulator and any resources associated with them.

The SNP has pledged to “bridge the digital divide” in an effort to improve the availability and affordability of broadband and mobile services.

“We will press the UK government to reclassify the internet as an essential service and support affordable housing providers to make the service available,” said the manifesto.

“We will also work with broadband and mobile service providers to make more affordable tariffs and packages more widely available – and call for the UK government to legislate for a social tariff.”

Providing access to superfast broadband to all homes and businesses in Scotland plays a large role in the SNP’s plan, which would invest £600m to increase broadband coverage from 95% of premises to 100%. The SNP claims that the UK government is providing just £21m of that funding.

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