The nominations are now in across Scotland, and there are 2,550 people who have put themselves forward as options for voters across the 32 Local Authorities. Established last year, our Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) has been racing against time to set up its pilot financial assistance scheme for disabled candidates, offering funding to pay for additional costs faced by disabled candidates and provide adjustments, assistive technology or personal / communication assistance as needed. The aim is both simple and very complex indeed – to attempt to level the playing field as much as possible for disabled candidates so they can compete on a fair basis. To do this we have engaged with parties, Local Authorities and the Electoral Commission to get the word out to potential and actual candidates that help was available. The success at getting the word out has varied depending on the enthusiasm with which the parties engaged with the project and encouraged disabled candidates to put themselves forward and to get in touch with us but on the whole we have been pleased with the initial success given this is the first time such a project has operated in Scotland.
One in five of the population could define as disabled, so if our democracy was fully representative of disabled people we’d expect there to be around 550 disabled candidates. As it is, we are currently directly aware of around 50. We know there must be considerably more than that out there, but at present political parties do not routinely gather demographic information, nor is it required at the point of nomination, and of course not everyone who could define as disabled chooses to do so.
We are proud to say that having set out to provide financial support to at least 30 disabled people seeking selection and then election in this pilot project year, we are (as of today) expecting to hit around 45 recipients of the Fund. We are still processing a last minute flurry of applications that came in near or just after the nomination deadline – and for practical reasons we plan to close the Fund to new applications by the end of next week, as it will be too late to process applications and meaningfully put support in place before the election after that time.
We have also provided non-financial advice and support to many disabled people more generally interested in politics, as well as to political parties – including specific advice and support around making selection procedures more accessible and fair. There will be a great many lessons to learn from the pilot which we hope to work on after this election and will be looking for strong action from political parties to do their part to improve equality of representation,..
As of today, here’s the current breakdown of participants currently receiving or shortly expected to receive Fund support, by party/independent:
Lib Dem 5.4%
We have a strong geographical spread, with recipients from Dumfriesshire to Orkney, as well as a wide range of impairment types represented (mobility, sensory, learning difficulty/disability, mental health, neurodiversity, chronic conditions). The support of the Fund is available to anyone disabled standing for election regardless of political affiliation, so the distribution of support reflects the candidates that came forward to us and for the most part this is down to the relative difference in numbers of candidates from each party or group, plus the extent to which their party has supported or encouraged disabled candidates to stand and to then seek our support.
Can you help us out? We would love to find any other candidates out there that could define as disabled who we have not heard from – even if they don’t feel they need our help. For our purposes this includes anybody that could meet the Equality Act 2010 definition of “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially affects their ability to carry out day to day activities”, and this covers all types of impairment/disability and long-term health conditions. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are grateful to both the Scottish Government for funding the project, and to the One in Five Campaign, a cross-party group of disabled campaigners that helped secure the support needed.