A new £200,000 scheme has been set up to help more disabled people in Scotland participate in politics and stand as local councillors, the Scottish Government announced over the weekend.
The Scottish Government says disabled people are currently under-represented in politics, and that the new scheme will provide “wide-ranging support” to help “increase their representation”.
The new funding will be used to help cover “additional costs of accessible transport or communications support”, allowing more disabled Scots to “stand for selection or election in the 2017 local government elections”.
The UK Government’s decision to axe a similar nationwide scheme in 2015 led to widespread condemnation, with disabled Green Party candidate Simeon Hart branding the decision “heartless” and questioning whether the government “is serious about making elections a level playing field”.
Inclusion Scotland, a disabled people’s organisation, will run the project on a pilot basis until May 2017, which Chief Execute Officer Sally Witcher says will ultimately help strengthen Scottish democracy.
Sally Witcher said: “As an organisation led by disabled people themselves, working towards the full and equal participation of disabled people in Scottish public life is a key part of Inclusion Scotland’s mission.
“This new Fund has the potential to make a real difference, not just to individual disabled people, but ultimately to the strengthening of Scottish democracy.
“Participation in public and political life is everyone’s human right and there is much work to do to ensure that this right can be fully exercised by disabled people.
“We are delighted to have been charged with the role of administering such an important scheme.”
Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, Marco Biagi, said the Scottish Government is committed to “ensuring more people from under-represented groups are treated equally and fairly at all levels”.
“It is vital for society that all our groups are represented in politics and elected offices at all levels”, he said.
“We know disabled people often find it difficult to access elected offices due to the many barriers that exist and the additional cost of being disabled is one of them.
“I am delighted to announce this funding, which comes as a direct response to one of the key demands from disabled people’s campaign organisations, who all highlight that funding is a major barrier for disabled people to even consider accessing politics.
He added: “The democratic participation fund for disabled people contributes towards our broader ambition to encourage more people from under-represented groups to stand for elected office so our local councils become more reflective of the communities they serve.”
The new fund will run alongside the ‘Access to Politics’ project, which has offered advice and support since November 2015 to disabled people interested in a career in politics.
Jamie Szymkowiak, founder of disability campaign group One in Five, said the announcement is “magnificent news”, that has the potential to “smash the financial barriers disabled people face accessing politics”.
Mr Szymkowiak added: “The One in Five campaign is delighted that this early announcement provides disabled people, across the political spectrum, plenty of time to consider standing for selection in the 2017 Local Government elections.
“The Fund, together with the redefinition of candidates’ personal expenses and the Access to Politics Project, provides the best opportunity for Scotland to address the under representation of disabled people in politics.”
Sally Witcher added: “If we are ultimately to see more disabled people elected, it’s vital that we work to change attitudes and increase awareness of inclusive practice from the very first day of disabled people’s involvement in politics.
“Barriers to our democratic participation can arise right at the outset, through inaccessible premises for meetings, inaccessible communication methods and so on.
“We are delighted that the Scottish Government has recognised this by funding us to provide a parallel advice and support service for disabled people seeking participation more widely.
“This along with the new Fund will enable us to promote and facilitate the increased representation of disabled people and thence the strengthening of Scottish democracy overall.”