There has been a lot of discussion about the implementation of blockchain in Scotland, however many people seem to be confused about what it is, and what it does. So I met with one of the leading advocates of blockchain democracy in Scotland; Nicholas Russel to ask him what it is all about and how it could change how we vote.
TM: Thank you for meeting with us Nicholas. So the first question is, what is blockchain voting?
NR: It’s a new way to simplify and improve democracy, with a secured unhackable, online system. It’s straightforward to use all you have to do is create your own unique digital passport. Then vote, using your smartphone or the internet.
TM: What is your interest in connection to the evolution of democracy in Scotland?
NR: I initially founded our Twitter feed after the 2014 referendum. Like many other Scots, I was appalled by the structure of the process itself. We were 21st century citizens, interacting with 19th century institutions, via 15th century paper based voting systems.
As a site which only requests voluntary input, our Twitter has gradually accelerated above 1,000,000 monthly impressions. I’ve inadvertently found myself as an ordinary Scot, leading a pioneering discussion about the potentials for a new and tremendously exciting form of global democracy. It has been a most profound and humbling conversation.
TM: What does blockchain mean for world democracy?
NR: There are many ways in which the concept and technology can help to peacefully resolve mass conflicts across the world. The dynamics have remarkable and obvious potential to do so much good in the world. Blockchain is both secure and quick which in turn enables democracy, and discourages conflict.
TM: What is Blockchain?
NR: It’s the technology which underpins bitcoin, the worldwide digital payment system. Blockchain can also be used for many other things, including secure voting. It will affect us all, in so many incredibly positive ways, but it’s a technology that people don’t truly understand yet.
TM: Who invented it and why?
NR: Satoshi Nakamoto is the name used by the unknown person or persons who designed bitcoin. As part of the implementation, they also devised the first blockchain database as a way to securely validate payments. They published the concept in 2008 to a mailing list in a research paper called ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’ and its been growing exponentially ever since.
TM: What can it be used for?
NR: It has endless scope. Maintaining records of all financial transactions. All public and private records. All semi-public info such as those in relation to medical records, accounting, and business transactions. All digital key use. From all future reservations you make, to the movie tickets you buy, and for all your photos, audios and videos. The scale is so vast, words cannot convey but it makes the internet more secure and brings trust between peer to peer transactions and online voting.
TM: An example of how and where blockchain can help?
NR: Over recent days the potential has been patently obvious, from what has just sadly happened to the people of Catalonia. Blockchain smartphone voting would have been absolutely perfect for peacefully resolving their mass conflict. Spanish police can confiscate Catalan referendum materials and paper vote slips today, and terrorise voters with violence, but they cannot terminate the ability for Catalans in the future to use smartphone blockchain voting.
TM: Does blockchain have any competitors or is it unique?
NR: The main scope of our discussion is on the subject of blockchain’s capabilities to enhance democracy. In that context, blockchain is unique.
There are many worldwide organisations now finalising their plans to use blockchain for voting on a scale that would allow for the making of country-size decisions.
TM: Is it easy to use?
NR: Yes, and the technology is accelerating. Each participant can create their own biometric facial recognition ID, upload further identity, and then create a digital passport. Such procedures are going to be straightforward for anyone who has a smartphone.
TM: Does it cost anything to use?
NR: As one example, Scotland’s archaic paper slip 2014 referendum cost taxpayers £15.85M. A blockchain vote would have negligible costs in comparison, current indications suggest 2% of the previous cost if you went digital only.
It also has the further benefits of massive reductions in the environmental footprint, as the entire process is digitalised.
TM: Who and where is it used, and how well established is it?
NR: Whilst accelerating into national-use capability, one relevant example would be the recent American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Fan Vote, where almost 2 million votes were cast without incident on the blockchain-based Votem platform.
The technologists are now finalising regulatory and legal requirements, to fully enable national scale voting.
Many Blockchain companies are working purely on enhancing vote management capability alone. Each of these companies has a slightly different approach, but they all work on Blockchain. And they are all driven by a desire to make the world a better place.
TM: Is it relevant to people / businesses and if so how?
NR: Blockchain is going to be relevant to every person and every business in Scotland. It’s the architectural underpinning of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds and impacting upon all disciplines, economies and industries.
TM: How secure is it – are we putting all our personal information out in public?
NR: Bitcoin has never been hacked, it’s defined as ‘tamper-proof’, trusted for transacting and recording transfers worth billions. In summary, it’s remote voting technology based upon the blockchain.
Vote records can be visible. Existing Swiss blockchain democracy systems use the national security number of the citizens, as well as their ID card number. Validation is the same as the real one, just online.
The latest technology creates ability to upload your own biometric facial recognition identity. Swiss identity regulations are the same as UK passports, ‘and smiling is not permitted!’
More than 1 billion world citizens are currently unable to prove their identity. That’s 1 in every 6 individuals. However, 75% of people in the world have a phone so you can easily see how the latest cheap smartphones are going to accelerate personal ID’s.
TM: Is it just for use in financial transactions or can it transfer all data, so that documents (for example) are safer than google docs?
NR: Blockchain provides scope for permanent, indelible records, across the span of all that we do. Gone are the days of vote records getting destroyed after voting.
In the same way that you’ll soon walk out of a supermarket and get scanned and billed direct in one go as you walk out the door, you’ll also be able to pay for anything, by using a scan code.
TM: People say it’s revolutionary, but what changes can blockchain really bring about in Scotland?
NR: When Scotland has a general election, half of Scots sadly don’t currently participate. The ease of voting via smartphone could perhaps accelerate Scottish participation to current Scandinavian-style norms, above 80%.
Polling stations won’t even be required. Massive administrative costs become negligible, saving taxpayers an absolute fortune.
But Scotland’s digital revolution is impossible until it’s inevitable. Scotland now needs to embrace this new future.
TM: What’s holding widespread adoption back?
NR: For voting, it’s the same as shifting from cassette music, onwards to CD’s, and then to downloads. It’s simply a natural progressive change. From paper slips, to early digital voting, and now onwards with blockchain capability.
Despite massive worldwide prevalence, many of Scotland’s politicians have still never even heard the word, ‘Blockchain’. As soon as they understand the completely transformative capabilities, the existing digital revolution will move into a new dimension.
TM: What’s happening in Scotland?
NR: As Digital ID isn’t centralised, Scotland’s Government can replicate what’s happened, for example in Switzerland. The authorities only require to verify and confirm the identity of the individual.
Scotland’s Government has now appointed Edinburgh-based Wallet Services, as their partner to strategically plan the blockchain rollout across public services. Wallet Services clearly have the knowledge, capabilities and drive to make these advances.
TM: A recommendation for a prominent Scotland blockchain website?
NR: Our progressive twitter dialogue has very recently been joined by a newly initiated Scotland website: DigitalScotNews and that source in particular has an amazing depth of perspective for Scotland’s blockchain democracy, brimming with all the latest news for Scotland’s digital pioneers.
TM: What’s your vision for Blockchain in Scotland?
NR: I was recently offered the unprecedented opportunity to help design Scotland’s first ever blockchain smartphone demo. The source company is BouleCoin, one of Switzerland’s leading blockchain democracy innovators. After we finalise the demo, the Scottish Government will then have an opportunity to embrace the potentials. The Scottish Government’s partner Wallet Services, have already very kindly offered to become involved in our discussions.
TM: How long should Scotland’s government enable a referendum blockchain vote to remain in place?
NR: Scotland’s Government can for example, initiate and lead a blockchain vote for an entire month, which is the same kind of timeline previously allocated for postal voting in the olden days.
That will allow Scots to fully understand any newly updated White Paper download, to properly embrace the new technology, and to accelerate participation by involving as many people as possible. Strategic planning in advance of initiating blockchain voting, is going to be crucial.
TM: Do you believe Scotland can become a shining light for blockchain democracy?
NR: Yes I do. Absolutely 100%.
Our Twitter discussion has been about worldwide progress for electronic democracy. Our success in these terms today in Scotland, isn’t even about Independence. It can only be measured by actually seeing a revolutionised and better form of democracy both for our country, and elsewhere. And blockchain democracy is certainly that future.
Nicholas Russell, on behalf of community on and around Twitter: @YesDayScotland
World Economic Forum: ‘What is blockchain?‘,
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Pwc: ‘Making sense of bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain‘ (Feb 2016)