Podcast Episode: Access to Politics
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
EY - Ethan Young
MM On this podcast on Iriss.fm I went to hear about a new project called Access to Politics. It is a fund to help people with a disability into the mainstream politics and on this series I spoke to Ethan Young from Inclusion Scotland. Now Ethan is a Civic Participation Officer and I spoke to him about access to politics. So, what is Access to Politics Ethan?
EY Access to Politics is a project that was set up by Inclusion Scotland. There was a set of internships Inclusion Scotland had that were hosted by the Scottish Parliament and with MSPs and part of the project they had was to look at the barriers that disabled people face when becoming involved in politics and participating in politics fully, and a lot of the evidence came that there needed to be an advice and support service, and that’s essentially what Access to Politics is. It was set up before I came into my role at Inclusion Scotland and it is a service that does what it says on the tin, it provides support and advice, for disabled people, on how to become more involved in politics. Now, that can be any level, that can be from someone who says, I want to be a bit more involved in politics because I really believe strongly about, for example, accessible taxes, and they might not be really wanting to get engaged with political party politics, but they want to be campaigning and getting involved in small P politics through campaigning for a cause to create a positive change. So, it would help people from that side of the spectrum all the way up to people that come and say, you know what, I’ve got a voice to be heard, I’ve really got a lot to say and I want to run to be an MSP, and we will help them do that, and everything in between. There is a wide range of people, it’s all person centred on what people come to me with, also just come and say, look, my branch meetings aren’t accessible, can you help? What do I do? And we can help there and we contact political parties, and what have you, and try to reduce the barriers that disabled people face. On the flip side of that part of that is also working with political parties to help them become more accessible. So, we do a piece of work, and I will go on to a bit more about what we have been doing there as well, in helping parties become ore accessible.
MM So, who came up with the idea of Access to Politics?
EY I mean it was disabled people themselves. People who have fed into research that had been done and, I mean, Inclusion Scotland knew that there was certainly a massive problem there and there were lots of barriers that disabled people faced and that politics and decisions makers aren’t reflecting the makeup of society and representing disabled people as much as they should, in terms of having disabled people in these positions. So, Inclusion Scotland knew there was an issue there, but the research was done, evident research done by disabled people and evidence taken from disabled people as well. Then the Scottish government backed that research and said, well we will provide funding to put this support and advice service in place.
MM So, how did it work? did disabled people come to your organisation or was it the other way about or was it a bit of both?
EY I’d say a bit of both. I’d say there was already the knowledge from the engagement work that our policy teams and the Inclusion Scotland do in general, so there would be knowledge there that there were lots of barriers and a need for this, but there is specific research done on the political barriers through the internships working within the parties and interviewing disabled people. Maybe disabled people who were in elected office, or had been in elected office, or aspired to, or just disabled members of political parties. So, I would say it was a mixture of both. There was a knowledge that something needs done here, but we pulled the evidence together with disabled people.
MM So, the Access to Politics was launched earlier this year, back in June, at the Scottish parliament. So, how did it go and what happened on the day?
EY So, I mean Access to Politics had been about for, it will be coming up for 3 or 4 years I think, this is only almost approaching my second year in this job, so it already existed before, but what we have done within Access to Politics now, in order to build on the momentum that we are doing, and to really engage with our disabled network, we pulled our disabled network of people who had contacted us through Access to Politics and who we’ve been working with through the Access to Elected Office fund. We pulled them together and we developed a charter, so we developed the Access to Politics Charter, again with disabled people, getting input on how do we best help political parties to be more accessible? Because, in my experience, political parties really want to be more accessible and engage with more disabled people, it maybe just isn’t always top of their priorities list, and also they need help as to how to go about doing that. So, instead of writing a list of demands, you should do this, you must do this, you must do this, we are going to tell you what you need to do, but we are going to help you do it, we are going to give you support and advice and recommendations on how you do that, and that will be informed by disabled people. So, we initially pulled our network together and we created workshops on looking at what the barriers were that people faced within the parties and what the solutions are. We focused more on the solutions because we know the barriers, but what are the solutions to these? How can we actually go to parties and say, this is how you need to be more accessible, rather than you need to be more accessible. Then I think it’s easier for parties to pick up and take actions then slowly, gradually become more accessible. So, things on the charter included, we shall support and resource a disabled members group, we want that to be happening within parties so that disabled members have a space to come together and actually inform internal party policy, and also so that parties can ask their members what they need, you know? Ask them what barriers they are facing and how can we help more disabled people get involved? There were 8 other points on the charter, but we put the charter together and we sent it, so we put the notes from the day and we sent it back out to the network who were writing it with us, then got a second round of feedback and went out to the political parties with it and got the buy in from the parties and their leadership, then we launched the charter on 14th June in parliament and we got all 5 of the main political party leaders to come along. So, we had Richard Lemon, Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeon, Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvey, and they all came which is good, it’s really quite a thing to get all the leaders in 1 room at the same time, because they are all very busy. So, it was good, and then we had an event around that, in which we talked about the charter, so basically what I have been telling you now, and a lot of our network came to the event, and we launched it there and took questions and answers about the charter. One thing that came out of that as well is that the charter doesn’t go far enough, but we want to start off with a charter that parties can engage with and start to implement things slowly and I think we really want to build on that, with the parties, I think we want to make sure that they are doing everything they can be doing and everything they are duty bound to be doing to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people can become involved, and we want to build on that so that we can 1 day see real inclusion and equal participation.
MM We’ll come back to speak about the charter in a minute, if you don’t mind, how many people have you got signed up at the moment?
EY For the charter? It’s hard to say, so we were getting MSPs to sign up to it, so we got all the party leaders and the MSPs that came to the event, I think we had about 17 in total, which again, is really good for a parliament lunchtime event. We haven’t been taking them back, in terms of having people sign. We had a bit of a social media campaign where people were taking photos and posting them, but we never collected, we are very much directed by disabled people, they know best, they have the lived experience so if they are saying, this isn’t working, we need to do this, that’s what we do. I mean that’s the way the world should work, you know? So, we will adapt to, if this isn’t working, we were planning to, we’ve just told the political parties that we will be sending them out a questionnaire so that they can tell us exactly what they’ve been doing on each point and we are going to publish that on our website so we want to keep the pressure on the parties to keep this a priority for them. Then if we advertise it on our website then it will show disabled people what parties are doing and people that want to become more involved in politics, they might well look at that and see what parties are doing for the best for disabled people. Therefore, which one might I want to join on that basis. So, we are going to publish what’s going on with this charter and I want it to develop as well, so it will develop in whichever way and we will go deeper into making more deep lying, underlying barriers, trying to address them and looking at, again as I say, how we would start to create organisations in society in a way that is fully inclusive.
MM And I suppose that if people are not thinking about standing in the election in 2021 and they want to stand maybe in the next 2 elections, so basically what I’m saying is, Access to Politics and, obviously, the charter isn’t going to go away, its here to stay.
EY Oh I would hope so. I mean, unfortunately in this sector everything relies on external funding.
MM Funding, yeh.
EY Which is a shame. I would certainly say that there needs to be a support and advice service and, I guess, the charter as well to keep pressure on things. I would love to see a day where we don’t need it, then I can retire early and get a fruit stall on a sunny beach somewhere, but I mean, my aim is to not need to have to do this once we function in a society that functions in such a way that is inclusive, without thinking about it, without needing advice and support on how to do it, then that would be the end goal, but I would certainly hope that this continues until it has reached that goal. I think if it was to disappear at any point, for disabled people, it would be a massive loss, the movement would be a massive loss in terms of trying to push for more accessibility in politics. It’s actually linked to, we will talk about the fund soon, but linked to that, the fund is slightly different there in that I believe the Access to Elected Office Fund should actually be engrained in electoral law, that it should be there constantly because there will always be a need for a way to pay for additional impairment costs, and if a day comes where that’s not needed then even better, but I think it’s something that actually needs to be made as standard piece in our democracy, but we can go on to talk about that.
MM Ok, let’s speak about it then. about the fund, so give us an overview about the fund and what it’s there for and how people will be supported through it?
EY So, going back to the beginning, in short, because it’s practically the same story that another set of the parliamentary internships that we did, came back with evidence that there are many barriers that disabled people face when running for elected office, however, additional costs is a massive 1, especially if, for example, you need a BSL interpreter, which can be up to £45 - £50 per hour, perhaps, and if you are trying to run a campaign and you need that support at that cost, if you are not a multi-millionaire you are going to struggle to do that and also it needs to not be seen as campaign expenditure as well. So, those standing orders need to be changed there to make sure that impairment related costs weren’t added into campaign costs, but the fund basically came out of research that said that, actually, this is a massive barrier for disabled people, it costs more for a disabled person that a non-disabled person to run a campaign. It is there to pay for additional impairment related costs that a disabled person faces that a non-disabled person wouldn’t, and that’s anything from transport to personal assistant support, communication support, any equipment someone might need. There is a whole range, it’s not exhaustive. We launched in time for the local election, the 2017 local elections and we had 44 applicants in total, 39 of whom made it to become a candidate for their political parties, or as an independent, and 15 who were supported from the fund were elected into council. So, the pilot proved the point even more and we learned from the pilot as well on how to improve the way we worked. We worked with a very person centred approach, we go out and meet anyone that’s interested in running for selection, because you don’t need to be a candidate, you can just have an interest and a commitment to run for selection within your party, then at that point the fund can start supporting you, providing that you are eligible to run of course, and we help to go through the application. So, myself or someone else would come out and go through the application with someone, not just because some people have difficulty with applications, but also because when we have met someone, we’ve got a better idea, you’ve had that chat, it’s a lot nicer than a cold application coming in through email. I get a better idea of people’s support needs and I can create a more rounded picture and recommendation based on that, which would then go to a decision-making panel and they would ultimately decide on what’s appropriate, in terms of reasonable adjustments, and what support is awarded.
MM So, moving forward then to the Access to Politics and also the charter, what would you like to see, what would your aims be for this going forward?
EY I mean going forward I would love to see lots of applications for people that want to run for elected office and I would love to see more disabled people become an MSP, which would be fantastic, and if not this time for some people, then we’ve got the council elections coming soon after, but it kick starts that engagement in politics and that desire and hunger to create the change that we wish to see in the world and represent disabled people on a much higher level and inform every policy, that comes out of parliament, in a way that takes into account disabled people’s needs and issues. So, I want to see that increase, I want to see more disabled people in the debating chamber, I want to see more disabled people become confident in their own voice and be able to create the changes they wish to see. I’ve got the changes I wish to see but everyone else has the changes they wish to see as well and I want, everyone should have the right to be able to try and achieve that. So, I want to see, in terms of the fund, that’s my ambition for the fund, it’s very much my ambition for other people. The other side to the ambition for the fund is that it does, we push for it to become standard practice in our democracy so it’s not something that a new government could come in and say, oh well we don’t need to do that, actually that’s how it’s funded, right now it’s funded in such a way that the government are committed to it just now but things change, I want it to be something that is actually law in our democracy, that it needs to be there, because it’s a human right. If disabled people face financial barriers getting into elected office then it is a human right to have these barriers removed. So, I want to see those things for the fund. For the charter and Access to Politics in general I want to see, I mean, I would love to be able to expand that out. I would love to have more of me and my colleagues to be able to put time into supporting disabled people and getting the word out there about best practice, and there is so much we could be doing with more resources. I think we are doing well at the minute but there is always more work to do, and essentially, let’s create a world where we don’t need to fight to remove barriers, we don’t need to fight for human rights, you know? That’s the end goal for me.
MM Ok, well thanks for you time and good luck going forward.
EY Thank you very much, thank you for having me.
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