When it comes to pioneering projects, the third sector is chock full of them. Our collective passion, determination and love for what we do is an asset to Scottish society. Inclusion Scotland is absolutely delighted to have been shortlisted in the category of Pioneering Project at this year’s Scottish Charity Awards for our Access to Elected Office Fund Scotland.
In early 2016 the Scottish Government committed to creating a Fund for disabled people to access while seeking elected office. Disabled people may find it more difficult to enter politics due to barriers which could be broken down by help with practical support costs. We also believe that better decisions will be made with more diverse representation in elected office, one that reflects the makeup of our population. This Fund was to be called the “Democratic Participation Fund for Disabled People”, as you may recall.
Inclusion Scotland was asked to deliver this Fund, and we were well placed to do so as a Disabled People’s Organisation. Phyl, Laura and Michelle worked alongside our interns and network of disabled people to decide how we would go about doing so. There were many things to consider, and we had no idea how many people would apply. We were definitely up to the challenge and we set about getting expert advice from organisations including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, COSLA, and the Electoral Commission. We also pulled together a fantastic group of disabled people who had expertise in supporting others, and also disabled former MSPs. This group formed our decision making panel.
The Fund opened that August and within hours we were being contacted by disabled political activists across Scotland. In the six weeks that followed, the team journeyed from Angus to Ayr and from Inverclyde to Inverness to visit our applicants and hear about how we could support them with the Fund. We got ourselves a shiny map and soon it was filling up with dots where our applicants were.
In October we were joined by Ethan Young as our Civic Participation Officer, and Naomi Waite as our Team Assistant. The team we like to call “Team Awesome” was taking shape, and in November former ILiS intern William Pinkney-Baird returned to Inclusion Scotland to support our wider work.
The best reward of this project has been the chance to get to know some fantastic folks across the country, of all political affiliations or none. People who are passionate about making Scotland a better place but face some barriers in their journey to elected office. We supported people with travel assistance if public transport was inaccessible, communication support or equipment if meetings were a barrier, software to help candidates carry out the administrative tasks they needed to for their campaign. Some candidates required personal assistance to get out and about to the doorsteps. In October we began to make the first awards and the difference this assistance was making became clear. Over the next 6 months we supported over 60 potential disabled candidates, made awards to 44 disabled people, 39 of whom went on to stand in the election. 15 of these individuals were elected on May 4th.
Elected or not, the feedback came flooding in on May 5th with many saying that they would not have put themselves forward without the support of the Fund. This project has enabled people to pursue their political and personal goals, and we hope it is only the beginning.
Winning this award would be a fantastic recognition of the hard work and effort that the team put into making this project a success. It would also reinforce the importance of equal access for disabled people in politics and democratic society. Fund recipient Sarah Anderson said:
“When I talk about Inclusion Scotland one of the first things which comes to mind is how helpful and caring everyone is. Inclusion Scotland know the challenges disabled people face and work to break down barriers and increase participation. Inclusion Scotland is our organisation because we shape it and we are the members and who it exists for. Inclusion Scotland by name and definition ensures disabled people are included in society and our communities.”
We hope to share some of the experiences of our applicants and the newly elected councillors who were supported by the Fund in the coming weeks. You can vote for us to win the Pioneering Project award by clicking the following link https://goodhq.org/scottish_charity_awards_2017/inclusionscotland and you can also tweet using the #ScotCharityAwards to tell everyone why you’d like us to win.
Voting closes on 5pm on 26th of May, and the awards ceremony will be held on Thursday 22nd June. Wish us luck!