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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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics