Viljar Lubi: Scotland is on the right track
Scotland is poised to develop stronger ties with one of the world’s smallest but most advanced digital economies, writes BILL MAGEE
Another week of wrangling over Brexit and the constitution provided the backdrop to a visit north of the border by the Estonian ambassador to the UK and Northern Ireland. Viljar Lubi did not seem unduly concerned by either, preferring to adopt a “business as usual” approach to the relationship between Scotland and the Baltic state.
Mr Lubi has been in Scotland to meet, among others, key government officials with the expectation that the close ties the two countries enjoy are about to get a lot closer.
Speaking to Daily Business between scheduled meetings in Glasgow, including the opening of an office for Philip Barlow, the new Estonian Honorary Consul, he revealed he is in talks to strike “significant” e-partnerships with the Scottish government. These would include a pilot programme to improve digital government services and cross-border trade links between Edinburgh and Tallin.
Estonia has a population of just 1.3 million and regained its independence in 1991 after 70 years of Soviet and Nazi occupation. It has emerged as one of the most advanced digital societies in the world and the “champion” within Europe when it comes to digital skills and internet usage by its citizens and companies.
Such is the country’s comprehensive digitisation it involves 97% of schools and 99% of public services saving the country 2% on its annual GDP and its productivity the envy of many other countries.
“Being digital is not a luxury, it is a cost-effective necessity,” he said. “A ‘going digital’ mindset is not a one-off. What is fine now will be obsolete in six months time..digital must be subject to constant improvement, redesign and reinvestment.”
Mr Lubi, his country’s former business development secretary, said he was well aware of Scotland’s digital ambitions, encapsulated in the Logan Report on a tech-led economic recovery plan.
Estonia has developed a digital ecosystem, says Viljar Lubi
Scotland’s aim is to become one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive state-funded tech ecosystem environments in Europe for the creation and growth of start-ups and the 38-point plan to foster digital industry, set out by former Skyscanner executive Mr Logan, has been taken up in its entirety by the Scottish government.
Mr Lubi said Scotland’s digital initiative was on the right track, adding: “Estonia’s ten unicorns have mostly developed out of my country’s digital ecosystem, from their schooling to now in their 30s and known as the ‘tiger leap’ generation.”
He said he could see nothing but positives coming out of a new planned digital partnership. “It must always be all about what are the e-government digital needs for people and cross-border trade opportunities for companies.”
A strong advocate of all things European, he considered the UK’s exit from the Single Market to be folly. “It was a sad occasion”, he said. “Estonia has gained so much from being part of Europe. It is far better being inside Europe than outside.”
On the prospect of another Scottish independence referendum, he said: “Such are our strong relationships, from the commercial to the cultural, it would make no difference. Everyone in Estonia knows where Scotland is.”
In the event of Scottish independence, various business leaders fear there will be considerable disruption, though before the last referendum Dell executive Steve Felice had said that if Scotland voted “yes” it would be “business as usual”. Mr Lubi said: “In a way I totally agree.”
During his visit, Mr Lubi took in a meeting at Strathclyde University, an introduction to the Lord Provost at the Glasgow City Chambers and also toured a distillery.
“There is a great deal more we could learn from Scotland… and establish closer ties in business, culture and other areas,” he said.
Regarding his Russian neighbour’s invasion of Ukraine, he said: “It is wrong and Russia’s aggression should be contained. There is nothing to excuse it and we must fight it and preserve democratic values at any price.”