Recently one of our board members, Dave Davies, has had his article featured in the Independence Magazine. In the article, Dave shares his experiences of growing up, politics and promoting equality.
Thankfully the party is getting on board by understanding more about what is getting the way of disabled people wanting to be active in Politics. The party as a whole signed up to the “1in5” campaign that reminded branches that many disabled people are excluded by where meetings are held and where, when an how activities are carried out. One in Five is a campaign to encourage, empower and increase political participation amongst disabled people in Scotland.
The Equality Act 2010 defines “Protected Characteristics” that, by law, must not be discriminated against. Whether that discrimination is intentional or unintentional. The “Protected Characteristics” Are Race, Age, Sex, Sexual Orientation, Disability, Faith an belief, Marital Status, Gender Identity (Transgender), Pregnancy and Maternity.
I have lived my life through seven of the nine. I learned many of my prejudices through my upbringing. As a one-earner family in a working-class environment, I learned sexism from the females in my life. Largely what women should and should not do and their role as “housewives”. Within my lifetime a woman was required to give up work when she married and despite their aspirations were channelled into menial work. My grandmother had the opportunity to train to be a teacher but her mother insisted she go into a cotton mill, just as she herself had. That great grandmother had stuck her head above the parapet as a young woman, campaigning for Trade Union Rights for women yet once she became a mother gave that up for the lot of a housewife. Heterosexism was drilled into me from a world defined and controlled by heterosexuals. Wherever I went, church, school, family it was drilled into me that gay was evil, perverted, unfulfilled, unhappy, deviant. Gender roles were along strict binary lines and I was left deeply confused if I stepped out of role. At the age of six I took my cousin’s doll to school for “show and tell” only to have it taken from me with a stern warning “boys don’t play with dolls”, and this from my favourite teacher.
I was gay from the age of four and disabled from 14. So I grew up on the receiving end of unfair discrimination but learned to accept I was ‘less than”, had been dealt a rotten hand and learned to acquiesce to it. In 1978 things began to change with legislation covered discrimination on the grounds of race and sex. By 1980 it was no longer a criminal act to be gay. It would be another fifteen years before discrimination on the grounds of disability would be outlawed.
So fast forward to 2019. We are aspiring to 50/50 recruiting of men/women. We have a number of ‘out’ gay and lesbian politicians (many more still in the closet) some visibly disabled and a smatter of people from non-Caucasian ethnic backgrounds. In Scotland, all political parties and Scottish Government have signed up to the Access to Politics Charter and there is a dedicated team to support access to political office within the disabled rights organisation, Inclusion Scotland.
There is an Access to Political Office Fund that can meet the costs of ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people once one has been accepted as a candidate in local or national Scottish elections but without access to the political process at branch level, it is highly unlikely one would get to being nominated. The Charter and The Fund respond to the ‘social’ or ‘societal’ model of disability that states it is the barriers in society that disable people, not their medical conditions.
I joined the SNP with great enthusiasm in 2014 after being shocked that we did not gain independence. I am English by birth, came to Scotland in 1972 and very quickly came to understand the desire for independence. I found such arrogance from London-Centric establishments that thought they had a God-given right to tell Scotland what to do and failed to understand our unique culture and legal system. When this was pointed out there was a sneering view of “you just like to pretend you are different”. The view that Scotland was a financial burden to the rest of the UK was repeated ad nauseam, backed up by “lies, damned lies and statistics”.
I hoped I would be able to be part of the solution of gaining independence by working for my local party. I was excited to open my first email from the branch secretary but surprised to find meetings were held in the upstairs function room of a pub with no way of getting a wheelchair user, such as me, up to the meeting.
Fast forward three years and every month I asked the same question. Are your meetings accessible? I received no answer except that eventually I appeared to drop off the circulation list. Problem solved for the Branch?
I was at a local SNP conference when I met a Branch Chair who exuded warmth and enthusiasm and was keen to find out how I was enjoying being in the party. I told her my story and was warmly welcomed to her branch which she assured me was always held in an accessible venue. I went along and was embraced and not patronised by the members. As I got to enjoy the meetings I learned that she was an enthusiastic promoter of the message of inclusion, going beyond the narrow margins of equality legislation. I feel totally included and valued for my skills and abilities. I have contributed to local training and enjoyed campaigning at a level that suits my limitations. I can’t climb tenement stairs to knock doors but I can prepare leaflets for post and sit for a full day at a polling station.
This branch is ten miles away and I need to go by car whereas my local branch is three miles away and on a bus route.
At the SNP Autumn Conference, I got talking to another wheelchair user. We do tend to gravitate or rather roll to one another. She had worse tales to tell. When she challenged her local branch about meeting upstairs over a pub she was told “she might be happier at another branch”.
Over the next few weeks, I will be collecting experiences, both good and bad, of disabled people trying to access their local branch watch out for a future article and please contact me via Independence magazine if you would like me to include your story. Anonymity guaranteed.
For more information on Inclusion Scotland’s “Access to Politics” project, follow this link: https://inclusionscotland.org/what-we-do/employability-and-civic-participation/access-to-politics/