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The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies) 3:10 pm, 24th October 2019

Let me begin by informing the House that I am a vice- chair of the all-party parliamentary group on blockchain.

At a time of great change, politically, economically and socially, we should be mindful of the technological change that is taking place in these momentous days. From the challenges posed to liberal democracy though the industry of fake news—mentioned by Vernon Coaker—to the unbridled and unregulated sphere of social media, the economy of today in no way reflects the economy of yesterday. It is, indeed, an economy about to be further brutalised by a Government who are wedded to the worst types of mercantilism. This is a world in which we must challenge that economic vision with a simple word: trust.

How is it possible, in the 21st century, for the Government of the UK to fail to recognise the simple fact that trustworthy economies are more stable, and have more positive economic and social outcomes that benefit their citizens? What is trustworthy about a Government who place one part of the Union at a competitive advantage at the expense of the rest? How is it possible that the Government have thrown the Democratic Unionist party under the Brexit bus, and also seek to remove Scotland from the largest liberal democratic single market and customs union in the world? The simple fact is that this Government cannot be trusted with Scotland’s economy.

It would be easy to list the Government’s failures, but I am sure that that litany of despair requires a debate of its own, so instead I shall mention some of the innovative and dynamic opportunities that are available to nations that are willing to participate in a trustworthy fashion. We need to look at new technologies such as blockchain, which, although not in itself a panacea, can be a valued asset in the delivery of public services by a range of public and private agents. According to the recently published European Commission report “Blockchain now and tomorrow’’, this technology can assist the delivery of transparency, security and increased trust across a range of fields including medicine, asset transaction, finance, education and the energy sector, and, critically, can assist the resilience of the economic infrastructure. Only last April, the United States Department of Energy announced, through its National Energy Technology Laboratory, phase 2 of its blockchain-based electricity grid security pilot. Meanwhile, the UK thought that it might be good to give Huawei the 5G network and allow the People’s Republic of China to build our nuclear power stations.

The last thing that Scotland needs at this critical point is removal from the largest coherent customs union and single market in the world, so let us look to its closest allies and EU partners to see how we can combat that narrative. One of those partners is none other than Estonia, a nation of 1.5 million with a rather large domineering neighbour in a state of flux, and a nation whose only contact with the outside world at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union was a single secret mobile phone held by the then Prime Minister. Cut to 2019, and it is a digital society like no other, sitting at the top table of the European Union and named as the most advanced digital society in the world. Yet in 2007 the impact of a cyber-attack closed down its Parliament and major public services. That attack had a profound and, indeed, practical outcome for Estonia.

Even before Satoshi—of whom most people in the Chamber will never have heard—released their blockchain paper, the Estonians were ahead of the game. They called it “hash-linked time stamping”. Since 2012, blockchain has been at the centre of its national economic infrastructure, in its health service, its judiciary, its legislature and its national security, as well as across a whole raft of commercial fields.

I am heartened by the fact that at least the Scottish Government, even with their limited powers, are pushing ahead. We need only read their report entitled “Distributed Ledger Technologies in Public Services” to see that blockchain represents a new opportunity for the creation of natively digital public services, building on the substantial policy framework of the Christie report on public service reform.

I hope the Minister recognises that the future is already here. If the Government are unable to commit themselves to achieving trust in the digital age by ensuring honesty, consideration and accountability, they should get out of the way and let Scotland set its own economic destiny.