MORE than a million Scots – and most small businesses north of the Border – do not have the access and skills they need to share in the benefits of a “Digital Scotland”, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has warned.
Its study, Spreading the Benefits of Digital Participation, found that there are entire communities in Scotland which are not online.
In an interim report into its findings, the RSE warned that those unable to participate in the online world are increasingly excluded from opportunities for employment, education and social interaction.
Just 77 per cent of Scots say they use the internet regularly, while only seven in ten have online access at home. This compares to figures of 88 per cent and 80 per cent, UK-wide.
While a high proportion of those without internet access are in deprived areas, even in Scotland’s most affluent neighbourhoods one in every seven homes is not connected. Many isolated, elderly or disabled people are also excluded from digital society.
“The internet is fundamentally changing society,” said Professor Michael Fourman, chair of the inquiry. “Being online opens the door to opportunities in learning, healthcare, employment and business. For well over a million people in Scotland, these opportunities are out of reach. Until everyone can go online, confidently and safely, we will not reap the full benefits of a digital Scotland.”
The RSE has called on the Scottish Government to recognise that every individual in Scotland has an “undeniable right” to digital inclusion. The organisation said ministers must “assume accountability” for ensuring everyone can share in the benefits of a digital Scotland.
Chris Yiu, director of digital participation at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), said: “Everybody deserves a chance to benefit from the opportunities the internet brings. Digital participation is not an end in itself; it is about empowering people and communities to pursue the things that matter most to them.
“This is a vital ingredient in building a more inclusive society, and why SCVO is stepping up its activity on digital participation, working across the public, private and third sectors.”
He added: “We look forward to contributing to the next phase of the inquiry.”
The report compared Scotland to countries in Scandinavia, where online participation is much higher. In Iceland, Norway and Sweden, more than 90 per cent of citizens are online and regularly use the internet.
The RSE also revealed that the majority of Scotland’s 100,000 small businesses are either not yet online or not yet making the most of digital tools.
The RSE’s interim report sets out the inquiry’s emerging conclusions and recommendations for feedback, ahead of the final report in the spring.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We understand the importance of digital inclusion and in fact contributed financially to this report to provide an independent perspective on tackling this vital issue.
“We have recently signed contracts to provide next generation access to 95 per cent across Scotland and will be actively promoting digital participation as this new network rolls out across the country, and the Scottish Government, working with SCVO, have appointed a director of digital Participation to help get our most digitally excluded communities online.”