What's in it for the disabled?

Capability Scotland's Abigail Bremner reports on what it's like to be a disabled voter, barriers peo

I’ve been perusing the manifestos of the main political parties in the run up to the Scottish Elections to see what they’ll be promising disabled voters. In terms of column inches, the Lib Dems do best, and they also come nearest to offering a commitment to independent living. The Scottish National Party are a close second, with some good policy content as well. The Labour Party ‘will promote civil rights for disabled people’ – which, in fairness, isn’t a position one could object to, but it’s a little short on the detail. The Conservatives want to ensure that ‘special’ schools maintain their role alongside mainstream education for disabled children. So they’re not afraid of controversy then!.

Capability Scotland is one of Scotland’s leading disability organisations working for a just Scotland. We’ve been campaigning on voting issues for disabled people since 1999, including regular surveys on the accessibility of voting processes. The results of our latest voting intentions survey are just in. It shows that disabled people and carers are more likely to vote than the rest of the population, with 94% of respondents stating that they will definitely be voting in the upcoming election. Twenty-eight percent also state that they are undecided as to which party they will be voting for, meaning that there is everything to play for in terms of winning disabled votes. Yet – as the analysis above shows – political parties are hardly going out of their way to court their disabled constituents.

It seems strange that disabled people are not treated by political analysts as a ‘lobby’ in the same way as, for example, the pensioners’ lobby to which so much attention is devoted (especially as both groups are roughly equivalent in size in terms of their representation in the general population). However, the flip side to this is that disabled people can and do choose to define themselves by characteristics other than their disability.

The main focus of Capability Scotland’s campaigning activity is on the barriers disabled people face when trying to exercise their right to vote. Our research shows that things are (generally) improving. In 1997, 43% of polling stations had major accessibility issues. This compares with 40% in 2001 and 17% in 2003, although the figure increased to 24% in 2005. I’ve been asked before why more disabled people don’t just vote by post – and I’m always keen to point out that voting by post means that you can lose out on the opportunity to follow the political debate right up until polling day before making a final decision. However, voting by post does remain the preferred option for some disabled people, out of necessity in some cases and out of choice in others.

The access issues faced by disabled people in the voting process aren’t just physical. We have been working to highlight the problems faced by people with learning difficulties, who can struggle to get access to information about voting and – crucially – about the policies of the parties they might want to vote for, in an easy to understand format. Our research shows that people with learning disabilities are more likely to report negative voting experiences than disabled people as a whole.

Our www.vote.org.uk website is a key plank of our activity. This aims to support disabled people in exercising their right to vote by providing information on the voting experience and on the sorts of additional support – such as low level polling booths and tactile voting devices – that they can expect to find at their local polling place.

And finally, Capability Scotland will also be practising what we preach this year, by volunteering our head office to our local council for use as a fully accessible polling station.

Abigail Bremner is the Campaigns Manager at Capability Scotland. Capability Scotland works with children, adults and families living with disability to support them in their everyday lives.
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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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