Digital Nation

Citizen Wallets – A Vision for Scottish Digital Government

Professor Bill Buchanan describes a compelling vision for the adoption of Digital Wallets to transform public services for Scottish citizens.

Professor Bill Buchanan is a stalwart of Scotland’s tech sector, with a passion to see it advance to become a world leading catalyst for transforming the nation.

He’s a visionary for where technology is headed and what it could do for the country, grounding this in the practical reality of the challenges we face today.

In this Medium blog he articulates a headline theme of this vision, a topic close to his heart where he offers expert insights of immense value that are readily implementable, the digitization of Scotland’s public sector.

Like every one he has experienced an NHS that operates via a painfully archaic system of bureaucracy, one still mired in paper-based forms and woefully inadequate when it comes to participating in the 21st century digital economy.

The scale of the situation, this vast estate of complexity of a multitude of healthcare agencies and interaction points, can seem like an insurmountable challenge, however this is the essence of the power of the solution he proposes – It’s one that harnesses an Internet-scale design model, therefore equivalent in size to the problem at hand.

In short there is a ‘silver bullet’, one simple principle and technology that in one fell swoop would address all of this complexity, the use of ‘Digital Wallets‘ for citizen data. Rather than multiple agencies each repeating the process of trying to capture and act on elements of their data records, usually via paper-based forms, and thus creating a multitude of duplicated systems, this approach decentralizes control to the users themselves.

As the term suggests Digital Wallets provide a single data store for someone to hold all types of their own digital records, such as a digital driving licence for example, or of course your healthcare records. This point highlights the power of the model: Government is guilty of acting departmentally, where the driving licence system and the healthcare ones act as ‘silos’, reinventing the wheel of identity and customer interfaces and data stores, over and over, the root cause of the system complexity and inefficiency.

Moving to a wallet-based approach addresses the challenge at this root cause level, eliminating all of this duplication, by removing the need to create the duplication in the first place, and building a system that is truly and literally user-centric, as the user themselves are the solution.


The EU Digital Wallet

Scotland has an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants, implementing such a system simply by adopting a program already being developed for this purpose. As they announced here the EU is making progress towards the implementation of their Digital Wallet scheme.

Indeed as Bill points out, Napier is playing a critical role in developing a component of the innovations required, via their ‘GLASS‘ project.

The framework for a European digital identity (eID) aims to ensure universal access for people and businesses to secure and trustworthy electronic identification and authentication by means of a personal digital wallet on a mobile phone. Opinions are mixed on whether this represents a positive or a negative development.

The EU writes that a personal digital wallet for EU citizens will make it easier for people to access public services and make online transactions. They provide this short intro, highlighting the benefits for SMEs through more secure and streamlined online commerce functions.

The Thales Group published this article which describes a compelling case for the scheme:

“For the first time, it establishes a reliable all-in-one identity gateway that puts citizens in full control of their data. For citizens and document issuers alike, the Digital ID Wallet, therefore, represents a missing piece in the jigsaw – a trusted environment in which innovative and exciting, user-focused ID initiatives can now realize their full potential.”

In this European Internet Forum webinar they explore the Ingredients for Success, chaired by Lorena Bolx Alonso of the European Commission, with guests Andrus Ansip, Alban Feraud and Dr Jens Bender.


In contrast there are starkly opposing views and criticisms of the scheme. France 24 ran this news piece where one side of the argument describes it as the stuff of Orwellian nightmares – a step towards mass surveillance and control.

Rob Rooken believes it is a Trojan Horse with the potential to change our lives and our society for the worst.

Dutch MP Freek Jansen poses some challenging questions to parliament where he raises sharp concerns about how the Digital ID would record all of our personal data in one central, online identity, acting as a prelude to a ‘social credit system’, in which all human transactions, movements and behaviours are tracked and assessed by the state. What role does the Netherlands play in this terrifying project, and what are the consequences for the Dutch population?

This report describes :

“In this commentary I illuminate how the core platform properties of digital identity systems afford the undue surveillance of vulnerable groups, leading users into the binary condition of either registering and being profiled, or giving up essential benefits from providers of development programmes.”

Fears about government control and surveillance are widespread, with this tweet highlighting a typical response many people have to these types of systems:

In this video from the EU Parliament they set to allay these types of fears:


Editor of On a mission to build a world leading Scottish digital nation.

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