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SNP and Plaid Cymru localise tech issues

In our fifth instalment of the Tech election 2010 series, the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties talk about how they would act on rural broadband, ID cards and other tech issues
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

The SNP and Plaid Cymru have set out their thoughts about digital inclusion, technology and government transparency, e-health and government IT.

The Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties answered a range of questions posed by ZDNet UK for our Tech election 2010 series. The questions were the same as those presented to Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Pirates, UKIP and the BNP.

ZDNet UK also approached the two main parties of Northern Ireland — the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin — but neither party responded to our questions. All answers in this article were written before the Digital Economy Act was passed.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is currently in government in Scotland, while Plaid Cymru is in a coalition with Welsh Labour. In this fifth instalment of our policy series, the parties argue why the tech-savvy Scottish or Welsh citizen should vote for them.

THE SCOTTISH NATIONALIST PARTY (SNP)
Q: What would your party do to promote and strengthen the UK technology industry?
A: The SNP will continue to support the technology industry in Scotland: for example, with our small business bonus, which has eased the tax burden on small startups. The SNP has also argued extensively for a tax break for the computer games industry in the UK to ensure that in areas such as Dundee where the industry is growing, jobs are not lost to other countries with a more competitive tax environment.

We welcome the UK government finally putting forward a consultation on this subject, but are disappointed there is no budget in place for such a tax break this year, and it will be down to continued pressure after the election, which the SNP is committed to providing, to ensure this pledge is followed through on and not merely a pre-election proposal.

What is your long-term strategy for the digital economy?
The SNP in government in Scotland is working with providers to ensure broadband is rolled out across Scotland, including to more rural and less accessible areas at speeds which ensure no one is left without the access they need for personal or business use of the internet. Exchanges across Scotland are being upgraded, and our ambition is to secure low-cost and fast connectivity for companies of all sizes.

We have been a consistent opponent of the Labour government's proposals for ID cards.

We know for many businesses in rural areas, internet access has been both a lifeline and a core party of business innovation. We see digital access and digital inclusion as essential across the economy, and reforms to Scottish education through the Curriculum for Excellence will see our young people develop the critical skills they need for the economy of the future.

What role should technology play in government transparency and interaction with the public?
Technology can be at the core of transparency and interaction. The Scottish Parliament led the way in transparency — for example, by listing all MSPs' expenses online for several years. Similarly, all  Freedom of Information requests are made available online by the government as soon as possible.

Technology offers the ability for direct access to government information and services — often at a lower cost to all involved — and for discussion between government and the people they serve. The Scottish government's National Conversation had a significant online focus with a forum, online response and the opportunity for the public to engage online with ministers.

The Scottish Parliament's e-petitions system is world leading. Legislation passed in March by the Scottish Parliament will lead to the publication of all financial transactions over £25,000 and remuneration over £150,000 with the internet [being] one of the ways in which this information can appear.

However, use of technology should not be to the exclusion of other forms of communication and transparency. It is vital everyone has the ability to access information and government services with or without digital technology. Bridging the digital divide is not simply about ensuring everyone can access and use technology but about accepting that, for some, personal interaction is preferable.

What role should open-source software play in local and national government use, and what would you do to promote its use over that of proprietary software?
In adopting any software, government must have regard to best value, to stability and to security as the primary concerns. While open source can appear cost-free, it requires support which may be made available within a support package if governments adopt proprietary software. Similarly, proprietary software can often be unreliable for large organisations.

The SNP would not expect any local or national government body to operate with a preference for either open-source or proprietary software, but to procure and to use the best software with the best lifetime value for the public money being invested.

How would you balance citizens' online privacy against protecting commercial interests? The cases of Phorm and the Digital Economy Bill's copyright clauses are relevant to this question.
Of primary importance is to ensure a debate on the Digital Economy Bill. This legislation is too important to be passed in the closing hours of a parliament.

It is important in balancing privacy and commercial interests that this is done in negotiation with global partners — rather than face the situation currently proposed by the UK government, where UK laws are established that are not in accordance with laws elsewhere in the world, creating problems for internet users by their global nature.

Copyright issues should also be the subject of wider debate. The SNP believes artists should be properly rewarded for their work and...

....no one should see copyright or intellectual property stolen. However, the powers in the DEB which would allow the secretary of state to change copyright law without reference to parliament go too far. Similarly, we have concerns over proposals for 'orphan works', which could disenfranchise many of those who create content.

What is your e-health policy and will it include contracting patient data out to third parties?
The SNP supports the use of e-health technology particularly in remote and rural areas where it can make a considerable beneficial difference to patients' lives. For example, remote digital check-ups can in some cases prevent patients undertaking round trips of several hours to visit their nearest hospital in the North East of Scotland or Highlands. Similarly, the SNP in government has recently announced the pilot of health checks for the over-40s in the North East of Scotland, some of which will be done using remote technology.

Technology and the use of e-health within hospitals and health boards can support patients by making it easier for clinicians to access data as they move through a system, as opposed to paper notes, but this should only be done when the system can be guaranteed to be as safe as possible. Data should not leave the NHS — for example, through the use of third parties.

Which major government IT projects would you drop or change, and why?
The SNP has been a consistent opponent of the Labour government's proposals for an ID card scheme. We oppose the principle of the scheme and in government in Scotland are clear that ID cards will not be required to access devolved services.

While the government maintains it has dropped the scheme, we continue to be opposed to the rolled-back scheme which unfairly targets students and immigrants. With serious evidence of data lapses by UK government agencies such as the loss of child benefit databases, we remain seriously concerned over the ability of the UK government or its contractors to manage national data of this kind.

What measures would you put in place to ensure that businesses and organisations better protect their customers' data and inform customers of data breaches?
Data protection is currently reserved to the UK government, in contrast to information law in Scotland, which is devolved. We believe it would be beneficial to both Scottish business and organisations if data protection was similarly devolved to a separate Data Protection Commission, who could ensure that breaches are taken seriously but also could promote data protection with Scottish business and organisations through much easier access and availability.

It is also essential that we see data protection laws enforced properly. Governments as well as businesses have been responsible for data losses and breaches, and it is imperative that the public or those affected are immediately informed.

   
The Scottish Parliament led the way in transparency — for example, by listing all MSPs' expenses online for several years.

What is your policy on new or existing measures to protect the critical national infrastructure?
We believe Scotland offers significant opportunities for the protection of infrastructure and data, and [we] see potential for Scotland to develop as a major centre for datacentres, particularly with the opportunity provided by our geography and renewable energy potential for servers to be cooled and temperature-controlled through green energy. Global firms have found Scotland to offer a good location for protection and storage of data.

In relation to the digital infrastructure, it is important to ensure not only that all organisations complete the normal tasks of data backup and ensuring they can recover data, but that domestic digital networks are secure. While this is a matter dealt with at UK level, we have seen the threat to the internet posed in other countries. It is important that registry-level domains are secure and that domains are properly managed at local level. The SNP has some concerns over the proposals in the Digital Economy Bill in relation to domain management.

In addition, the Scottish government is currently working with an organisation called DotScot to develop a Scottish top-level domain.

NEXT: Plaid Cymru

PLAID CYMRU
Spokesman: Prospective parliamentary candidate Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr)

Q: What would your party do to promote and strengthen the UK technology industry?
The Plaid-driven One Wales Government is currently rolling-out a pilot of Plaid Cymru's laptops for kids policy. The purpose of the policy is to ensure that Welsh children have the latest technological skills to be properly equipped for the workforce.

It has become clear that sustainable economic development will depend on new, innovative technologies. Plaid has repeatedly called for a substantial investment programme to address the climate crisis and generate sustainable jobs. We welcome the Welsh Assembly Government's Green Jobs Strategy, but more needs to be done. We support giving the National Assembly the ability to vary business taxes in order to boost business in Wales.

Wales is an aspiring nation of entrepreneurs. We are fully committed to encouraging the development of community-owned social enterprises.

What is your long-term strategy for the digital economy?
Many parts of Wales still cannot access broadband or can only access it at extremely slow speeds. We believe that future broadband development should be based on a minimum public service obligation for all, currently proposed at 2Mbps. We call for research into the construction of a super-fast national broadband network for Wales, ending decades of under-investment in our public communications services. We also support compulsory network sharing between mobile phone and broadband operators.

   
Many parts of Wales cannot access broadband or can only access it at extremely slow speeds.

What role should technology play in government transparency and interaction with the public?
The Westminster system can learn a lot from the National Assembly with its transparent, accountable and democratic processes — in particular, the National Assembly's policy of publishing all expenses online. Also, the National Assembly's chamber has computers so that assembly members are able to engage with constituents and other interested parties even as debates are going on. They are able, therefore, to interact instantly with the democratic process.

What role should open-source software play in local and national government use, and what would you do to promote its use over that of proprietary software?
Plaid Cymru did not answer this question.

Which major government IT projects would you drop or change, and why?
We would scrap ID cards and the accompanying database. We believe this is expensive, a waste of money and a threat to our civil liberties.

How would you balance citizens' online privacy against protecting commercial interests? The cases of Phorm and the Digital Economy Bill's copyright clauses are relevant to this question.
Plaid Cymru did not answer this question.

What is your e-health policy and will it include contracting patient data out to third parties?
We do not have a specific e-health policy. However, we are, of course, fully committed to a high-quality, publicly-funded NHS, free for all at the point of delivery.

Plaid believes in delivering appropriate health and well-being services according to local need in order to best care for our communities, to ensure that our health and social services are sustainable and can realise their potential to improve the lives of everyone in Wales. This is why a central Plaid policy is a new Community Health Service, with nurses in all schools, check-ups at work and wellbeing centres all over Wales. Patients will get all the care and advice they need — from the right person, locally, in one place in the wellbeing centres that we will set up, whether in person or using telecommunications, such as email and telephone.

Jonathan Edwards

Prospective parliamentary candidate Jonathan Edwards Credit: Jonathan Edwards

We know that sometimes, especially when elderly or ill, it's hard to travel around Wales, and people need services close to their homes. We will aim for hospital and specialist services as close as possible to where people live and we will try to make out-of-hours care better, by getting ambulances and community hospitals to work together.

What measures would you put in place to ensure that businesses and organisations better protect their customers' data and inform customers of data breaches?
Plaid Cymru did not answer this question.

What is your policy on new or existing measures to protect the critical national infrastructure?
Plaid Cymru did not answer this question.

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