In March 2015, the Scottish Government published (online) its International Policy Statement. The Statement, quite rightly, referenced digital connectivity as an important element of its approach to internationalisation, in terms of attracting investment and helping businesses engage with global markets. The Statement cited the Government’s vision of Scotland’s digital future: Digital Scotland 2020: Achieving World Class Digital Infrastructure (2012).
On 10 December 2015, the Deloittes report The Economic and Social Impacts of Enhanced Digitalisation in Scotland, was welcomed by the Deputy First Minister. The report confirms the view of the economic benefits of digitalisation, identifying a virtuous cycle: increased digitalisation reduces costs, makes business more competitive internationally, encourages innovation and increases GDP and exports.
So, how do the policies for internationalisation and digitalisation relate to each other?
The International Policy Statement identifies a range of goals where digitalisation might be expected to make a difference, including economic development, but also wider goals of internationalisation such as building Scotland’s capacity to understand the international environment; supporting the development of (international) relationships and partnerships; support for foreign language teaching; diaspora engagement and enhanced EU partnerships.
The case for digitalisation playing a positive role in economic growth seems to be made in the Deloittes report, but it could be argued that now is the time to make a robust case for the benefits of developing a strategy for digitalisation as a core driver of the wider internationalisation agenda.
The Scotland’s Digital Future web page on the Scottish Government website http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Economy/digital seeks views on connectivity, the digital economy, digital participation and digital public services. The focus is, however, almost exclusively on infrastructure and domestic public service delivery.
The time may be right for a fifth consultation, on how increased digitalisation can support vital internationalisation initiatives in education, building understanding, supporting key partnerships and networks, and engaging with the vast range of international actors Scotland needs to have constructive relationships with. These include international organisations such as the EU, governments, civic society bodies, businesses, media, digital content providers, educators, cultural organisations and individuals for whom digital communications media are the only means they have of staying in touch across international borders.
Such a consultation could seek views on how we best understand the global world of the digital. The digital is not only about local services and efficiency savings. We are each of us living hybrid lives, accessing global culture over our devices while living in specific places. It is how we can learn to negotiate this new digital world that generates uncertainties as well as opportunities, which will define the quality of our lives in the 21st century.