This speech was given as part of the reporting event held in Scottish Parliament on 24th February 2015
My talk is on the political process and becoming more politically engaged as a disabled person.
There are so many facets to politics: from joining the party you feel is most aligned with your ideals, to becoming a party activist and campaigner, to engaging in debates in public over serious issues affecting our society. I would argue that to gain experience in these activities you don’t necessarily require a placement in the parliament. There are some experiences I gained from this internship I couldn’t have learned any other way.
Because I was working for an MSP who became a minister halfway through my internship I gained an understanding of the work of the constituency office, the role of an MSP and minister in a large organisation responsible to the people of Scotland. This internship was my attempt at playing my own part in this huge and complex environment. Looming largely for all of us here is exploring how those of us with impairments and disabilities can get involved in formal politics. Firstly, I was mostly involved in doing casework, which is a huge part of an MSP’s work, and the work of their staff. I felt very privileged to be involved in casework, which is fundamental in engaging with the issues of constituents, and a major responsibility to work on behalf of them. Another unique aspect was learning about the systems and procedures inside parliament itself. Again you wouldn’t get this knowledge any other way except to be inside the parliament. You are included in communications from the party and its researchers on upcoming press releases, briefings and rebuttals for chamber debates and committees. You receive a wide variety of very detailed briefings, facts, figures and items on the performance of various issues in Scotland over time, as well as the government’s, and each party’s, stance and future plans on these issues. You also develop an understanding of how forthcoming committees, debates, bills and acts are put together. You actively see how the question/answer system works in practice, how information flows from the party to MSPs, ministers and their civil service and public service staff.
One of my fellow interns has contributed their feelings on the theme of political processes and engagement. Ryan was already politically aware but one of his reasons for doing this internship was to get more experience at handling himself politically, i.e. how to debate and get his point across in the best way to encourage discussion. The engagement has galvanised him into wanting to get into elected office even more. The experience has also made him aware of questioning the information published in articles, as well as their sources. He states that: “It has calmed me politically but given me more of a sense of empowerment”.
I feel I have learned I now have a responsibility to help people understand what MSPs do in their communities and regions, how they represent us inside and outside Parliament, and more crucially how casework is undertaken on behalf of us as constituents. Through this opportunity I’m very keen on encouraging people with disabilities to engage in politics, which means us all working towards increasing opportunities for the participation of people with disabilities.
The issue is that we face many barriers to participating in community life and in politics due to the types of impairments and disabilities we have, with accessibility, with the required adjustments. We are also likely to be high users of public services, including the NHS (in my case). We are therefore under-represented. It is crucial for us as interns to take these opportunities forward and be helpful to those who, like myself, couldn’t ever have imagined themselves becoming active.