Where are all the disabled MSPs?
There is a key way in which this election result has badly let down disabled people. With one in five members of the working-age population being disabled, a fully representative Scottish Parliament would have about 23 disabled MSPs.
Before the election there were three disabled MSPs. One way or another, we lost all three and so far, it would appear that our newly elected Scottish Parliament has just one new openly disabled member – Jeremy Balfour MSP (Conservative, Lothian region). Less than one per cent of our new parliament is openly disabled.
Despite all the parties signing the ‘One in Five pledge’ over a year ago, and most of them engaging with Inclusion Scotland over the past two years on this issue, this does not appear to have translated into support for disabled candidates to stand in winnable seats, at least not yet.
Even if you only look at the 51 newly elected MSPs entering the Holyrood chamber this session, this still comes out as achieving only 10 per cent of what would be representative of the population.
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During a time when disabled people are increasingly being put under pressure by cuts to social security, punitive sanctions, undignified and often inaccessible assessment processes and the increasing cost of living – the need for more disabled people in our democracy has never been greater.
Disabled politicians can also bring additional benefits to the role, such as a more varied perspective on many of the challenges faced by their constituents and lived experience that may offer a much deeper understanding of the effect some decisions can have.
The question is: what will political parties do to ensure that disabled members are encouraged and supported to stand? Will they take action to ensure a representative level of disabled members are selected for next year’s elections?
Help is at hand for those willing to act. The new Democratic Participation Fund and associated advice service run by Inclusion Scotland will offer financial assistance to disabled candidates wishing to stand for selection or election to councils next year which will give disabled candidates a more level playing field to compete with non-disabled opponents.
This is an abbreviated version of a longer article by Phyl Meyer published on the Inclusion Scotland website.