Absent MSPs

Tech sector pleas go unheard in empty chamber

Empty Holyrood chamber
Where are the MSPs? Richard Lochhead addressed a near-empty chamber

Scotland needs to put more emphasis on education if it is to become a true ‘tech nation’, according to opposition MSPs who spoke in a debate attended by just a handful of MSPs.

The claim emerged during a presentation on the importance of technology led by Small Business minister Richard Lochhead.

Addressing a near-empty chamber, which drew more criticism of MSPs’ attitude towards business, Mr Lochhead outlined the significant foothold that Scotland has built in a range of tech-focused sectors.

He said it was becoming a leader in a range of disciplines, from fintech and photonics to robotics and space. The whole sector now employs 80,000 people and pumps £6 billion into the economy.

While opposition members shared Mr Lochhead’s portrayal of a Scottish success story, there was a view that the education department was under-funded and lacking in the strategic support needed to underpin the technology sector.

Daniel Johnson, Labour’s shadow economy minister, said the government had to raise its game in meeting chief entrepreneur Mark Logan’s call for more computer science teaching.

For the Tories, Liam Kerr shared Mr Johnson’s concern that the Education Secretary was not present for the debate and that none of the SNP-Green front bench were in attendance.

He noted Mr Lochhead’s “abject failure to mention education” and said a lack of focus on education would “undermine efforts to build the supply of talent to the tech sector”.

Fellow Tory Pam Gosal added that “we have no Cabinet Secretaries here, yet the opposition have deployed their front benches.”

Labour MSP Richard Leonard focused on Scotland’s need to “think big and act radical” by tackling some of the unwelcome features of the technology sector – the control wielded by the multinationals and their contribution to widening gaps between rich and poor.

He said Amazon was visiting the parliament next week to address its research and development record.

“I hope they will also be able to tell us about their corporation tax record, their trade union record, their record as an employer on workers’ rights, human rights, equal rights , net zero hours and poverty pay,” he said.

While some members joined the debate in its later stages, there was criticism on social media of the empty rows of desks.

Branding businessman David Reid said: “This is a disgrace. And the anti-business Scottish Greens want a four day week with five day pay!”

Engineering executive Karen Stewart said: “How is that even allowed??? Surely they need to turn up for work.”

Former CBI Scotland director Hugh Aitken said: “This is an absolute disgrace and should be taken further.”

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