Over the last couple of weekends, Inclusion Scotland has continued to attend party conferences, speaking to party members and elected politicians about our work – including our Access to Elected Office (AEO) Fund – and how to make party activities more accessible to disabled members. After attending Scottish Labour’s conference at the end of February, we have now also attended the Scottish Conservatives’, Lib Dems’ and Greens’ conferences – next up is SNP conference this weekend in Aberdeen.
The second of the conferences we attended this Spring (after Scottish Labour) was the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party‘s conference, in Glasgow over the 3rd and 4th of March. Over the course of the weekend, we spoke to many party members, MSPs and councilors, and disabled candidates standing for election (including those being supported through the AEO Fund). There was a very positive feedback from MSPs, including Jeremy Balfour, the only sitting MSP to openly identify as a disabled person. Scottish party leader Ruth Davidson also made an appearance to show her support for our work.
We also held a fringe event, which was very well attended with around 20 people present, among them two MSPs (Jeremy Balfour and Oliver Mundell), two sitting councillors, and one candidate being supported through the AEO Fund. Following a presentation on our work, attendees discussed the barriers disabled people face running for elected office, as well as the grey areas between campaign expenses and impairment-related spending. Attendees also brought up that accessibility isn’t always at the forefront of people’s minds – people don’t realise when they are not conducting things in an accessible way, and that there must therefore be more awareness of accessibility. Finally, the importance of getting information to people in accessible ways was flagged up when a candidate with a visual impairment said that he hadn’t heard about the AEO Fund until someone read information about the fringe to him.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
At the Scottish Liberal Democrats‘ conference, in Perth on the 10th and 11th March, we were glad to speak to Scottish party leader Willie Rennie and Baroness Sal Brinton, president of the UK Party, and to hear about their support for the AEO Fund pilot project. The delegates and politicians we spoke to were aware of Inclusion Scotland and the work we do, and agreed that we need more disabled people in politics. We also met at least two more potential AEO Fund applicants. Finally, we also spoke to staff from the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, about further ways we can work with them.
Scottish Green Party
We were glad to see accessibility at the forefront of the Scottish Green Party‘s conference, held in Glasgow on the 11th March – with a BSL interpreter present for the plenary sessions, and measures taken to allow a disabled candidate (and recipient of the AEO Fund) to Skype in to conference to deliver her speech. Furthermore, accessibility for disabled people featured prominently to the party’s manifesto, with the policy on social care pledging Green councillors to push for the abolition of the care tax. It was also good to see that party members we spoke to at the stall were aware of access issues for disabled people. As with the Liberal Democrats conference, we had productive conversations with the other stallholders, in this case the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), who have since got in touch with more potential fund applicants.