Up until last year, the extent of my political involvement was ranting from my sofa, watching Jon Stewart and arguing with my relatives about the US presidential elections on Facebook. I lived in America for a year back when Romney v Obama was really heating up. In Utah, where Mitt Romney is pretty much a king, there were signs, banners and bumper stickers everywhere. The passion was undeniable, and very much in contrast to anything I had witnessed in Scotland. Even when I moved back I still took a much greater interest in what was going on over the pond than 30 miles down the road at Holyrood.
Something changed all that last year, a little thing called the Scottish Independence Referendum. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement and the debate. Politics was now visible in our lives here in Scotland, on a massive scale. As a result I joined a political party for the first time in my life, although I had considered it in the past but never fully committed. Filling in the sign up form, I was convinced I could really make my mark politically. People often say to me that I am the future First Minister, which makes me laugh. Nicola Sturgeon has been politically active since she was a teenager. I on the other hand do not feel comfortable attending branch meetings or canvassing at 26.
I went to my first and only branch meeting last November, and I really enjoyed it. But I haven’t been since, and months went by where I didn’t interact with my new party at all. Having anxiety is generally rubbish, as I am sure you can imagine. The fear of having anxiety is worse, it stops you from even trying things. Then the Westminster campaign started up, and I really wanted to get involved. From what I could see, much of what was on offer revolved around canvassing and polling people on their doorsteps. Pretty much my worst nightmare. The fear of rejection only surpassed by my lifelong fear of dogs! What if I knocked on someone’s door, they were rude to me AND their dog came for me? So I settled for leafleting. That sounds fairly straightforward right? Yeah, not quite. What happens when you walk up someone’s path to find them in their garden? What do you say? What if they ask you questions about your party that you haven’t really thought about? I’d already collected the leaflets and I knew I couldn’t let anyone down, so I threw myself into it. I probably didn’t hit every door, I dodged the dogs and the gardening people. Would you believe some doors have no letterbox? I was not prepared for that! And finally, it was done. Something that seems so easy to other party activists, I managed to do only after much soul torturing. I decided not to do it again. Surely there was another way?
I kept an eye out for opportunities to do other things for the party that I felt comfortable doing, so I jumped at the chance to proofread the branch newsletters during the campaign. Then there was the worry of, “what if I point out that mistake and I upset the person who wrote it?” The question should really be, would Nicola Sturgeon hesitate to point out a misplaced apostrophe? Social anxiety makes you hyper sensitive to every possible outcome, and you create stories in your mind that might happen. Its not fun but the plus side is you learn to be quite sensitive to other people’s feelings. I pushed through and made the corrections needed, because really if no one wanted to be corrected they wouldn’t be asking people to proof read things!
As part of the Westminster campaign I also helped stuff envelopes. It was nice to get to know people in the branch on a one to one basis rather than being in a big room full of people. I also went on a tour of the parliament with my local MSP. Getting an insider’s take on the building was fun, and I liked it so much I took my friends from Utah on the regular guided tour a few weeks ago. When it came to Election Day I wanted to help out at a polling station, and the campaign organiser was very accommodating when I asked to be placed with someone else rather than alone. I can’t tell you how I’d have done because I ended up working that day but it’s the thought that counts.Parliament at Night
I’m excited to learn more about the barriers other disabled people face in politics. My role as Employability and Civic Participation Intern means I can get an insight into that through the interns on the Access to Elected Office project. I went along to the Scottish Green Party conference a few weeks ago and watched the fringe meeting Inclusion Scotland did on the project. Maybe I’ll be able to do something similar on this internship. I actually quite like public speaking. Its funny how selective social anxiety is. There are things I’ve done in life that other people would never think about doing in their wildest dreams, but I struggle with the stuff most people take for granted. Although being in work is social, it isn’t really the same as getting out there on your own. Context really matters. Would I stand up in front of people as Michelle from Inclusion Scotland? Yes. Would I do it as “just me”? Hopefully some day!
Brenna the Green Party intern has been doing a great job with her research into access barriers within politics and the internship for the Scottish Labour Party is being advertised at the moment. We are hoping to finalise the placements with the other parties soon. Understanding the barriers disabled people face will help Scotland work towards ensuring that the right support is in place so anyone who wants to participate can do so. Not only do we all have our own skills, personalities and life experience to bring, we also have our own perspectives as disabled people which can only be a benefit to creating more inclusive policies.
There’s also a great campaign at the moment called One in Five which aims to achieve equal representation in politics. Do check out their website for more blogs on political involvement and disability if you’re interested. You can also check and see if your local branch or organisation has signed up to the One in Five Charter.
We have a twitter account so give us a follow to keep up to date with our work in this area and updates on party internship vacancies. Also feel free to comment with your own experiences.