ILiS (Independent Living in Scotland) holds a pop-up thinktank event on the underrepresentation of disabled people in politics. Parliamentary internships for disabled people are raised as a possible method for promoting increased representation. This proposal is backed by James Dornan MSP, who gains the Presiding Officer’s support for a pilot internship scheme in the Scottish Parliament.
Over the course of the Parliamentary internship pilot, seven disabled individuals are recruited to work with MSPs across four parties. Experiences are varied but generally positive for all involved, with learning developed on flexible approaches and reasonable adjustments in a Parliamentary environment. Interns demonstrate the value of bringing a lived experience of disability to the work of the Scottish Parliament.
The success of the internship pilot leads to the Scottish Government commissioning a further project conducting ‘Access to Elected Office Research’ on barriers faced by disabled people participating in political parties, and as candidates.
Inclusion Scotland chooses to conduct the research via the recruitment of further disabled interns for each of the five parties represented in the Scottish Parliament. Each intern is tasked with gathering information from and within their respective host party. Interns’ final reports for their own parties are then combined into a single overall report.
In November, the Scottish Government asks Inclusion Scotland to explore setting up an Access to Elected Office Fund in time for the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections, but it is soon realised there is not enough time to address the legalities and practicalities of the Fund prior to the election. Instead, the Scottish Government commissions Inclusion Scotland to establish a non-financial advice and support service for disabled people seeking greater involvement in politics. The Access to Politics project begins actively advising parties, promoting potential candidacy to disabled people generally, and providing direct one-to-one encouragement to potential future disabled candidates.
The Scottish Government formally announces its intention to establish an Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) pilot scheme for the 2017 Local Authority elections and, at the urging of Inclusion Scotland, prepares to ensure that any access-related funding is not counted against campaign expenditure limits.
Recognising the value of disabled-people-led-work for disabled people, the Scottish Government invites Inclusion Scotland to administer the Fund. Inclusion Scotland runs stalls and talks at all available political party conferences to promote the Fund to potential disabled candidates, delivers numerous talks to non-party political groups, and further raises the Fund’s profile via social media and an appearance on BBC Scotland. Many of the disabled people who were already being supported by the Access to Politics project begin working towards standing for Local Authorities in 2017. In some cases, basic simple forms of financial support are swiftly established for confirmed candidates on an interim basis, with immediate positive effects.
The Access to Elected Office Fund pilot processes 44 applications from disabled people interested in running as local authority candidates, of who 39 are selected by their parties (or choose to run as independents.) In the May elections, 15 are elected as councillors from across four political parties, and all across Scotland.
The Fund receives high profile recognition and support across party lines in the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Government commits to the Fund continuing until at least the following Scottish Parliament election in 2021.
In autumn 2018, the Access to Elected Office Fund reopened for the Scottish Parliament 2021 elections, and for Scottish Parliament and local authority by-elections.