Demanding a say in our future

Those with different needs must be included and considered in the debate leading up to the referendum, says Andy Kerr

Do disabled people feel they have been an equal part of the build up to the referendum vote? Picture: Greg Macvean

As s former politician you would expect me to have strong views about the forthcoming Scottish referendum, so now is my chance to share my thoughts on this important choice ahead of us.

Time is running out for people in Scotland to make up their minds about how they will vote on 18 September. We’ve heard the arguments from both sides and, with varying degrees of quality, been involved in the debate about what the future holds for Scotland following the referendum.

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Yet just how involved have disabled people, and particularly those with communication support needs, been throughout this discussion? The answer is, not nearly enough.

We know that nearly one in five people of working age, that’s one million in Scotland, are disabled and should have their say in the referendum. But do they feel they have been an equal part of the build up to the vote, or have they been left on the sidelines?

Sense Scotland is part of Disability Agenda Scotland (DAS) an alliance of Scotland’s major disability organisations which also includes Action on Hearing Loss (Scotland), Capability Scotland, ENABLE Scotland, RNIB Scotland and SAMH. In the final stages of the debate we’re trying to ensure that disabled people’s voices are heard, not just by politicians but by the whole of Scotland.

DAS is conducting a survey “Has your voice been heard?” which is already revealing just how difficult disabled people in Scotland are finding the process. While the current information about the referendum is supposed to clearly explain the choices available to people, one individual supported by Sense Scotland commented: “… there is too much information from too many parties… the language used is not easy to understand.”

You could argue that this is not just a reflection of the experiences of disabled voters but of all the people in Scotland trying to make an informed decision. But what if you have the additional barrier of communication support needs and are seeking clear, simple information to help you make this important choice? You can see what a confusing landscape it is for the disabled voters.

That is why DAS launched the survey and is also setting up a hustings event in Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth on 18 August. We want disabled people from across the country to put the questions that are important to them to the representatives of the campaigns.

Although final results of the survey are still to be published, we’re starting to see some of the areas that are of special importance to disabled voters. These include benefits, transport, the blue badge and Motability schemes, money, and the ability to continue activities with their families.

There’s still time for everyone involved in the debate to create a much more inclusive environment for disabled voters. Not just politicians, but the mainstream media, campaigners on both sides and of course organisations like Sense Scotland and its partners.

The debate we have over the coming weeks needs to be clear, simple and consistent on both sides. We need to create spaces and events which give disabled people time to put their questions forward and get the answers. We need to ensure that all disabled people who want to vote are registered and supported to visit the polling station on the day, or take part in postal voting. And we need to make all these venues and resources fully accessible and welcoming.

My commitment is that Sense Scotland continues to give the people we support, their families and carers a proper platform to share both their aspirations and anxieties about the referendum and the future of Scotland. Politicians from both sides of the debate need to engage more directly with disabled voters, giving people the time and space to ask their questions, listen to the case from either side, then to make an informed choice.

So while DAS are doing their best to make sure people feel included in this final stage, we need everyone to take notice of disabled voters; look out for the forthcoming DAS Hustings event and the results of the survey; consider what disabled people are saying about their hopes for the future. Let’s make this a truly equal referendum which represents the views of everyone in Scotland. We need to ensure that, whatever the outcome, everyone’s voice has been heard.

• Andy Kerr is chief executive of Sense Scotland Twitter: @sensescotland