In my last column , I spoke about the first ever SNP Conference specifically for Disabled Members at the Crowne Plaza in Glasgow was organised by some Disabled party members themselves. It was an opportunity to nurture skills and encourage debate , in the way that feels comfortable and in a space that empowers us.
The opening speech was from Equalities Officer Tasmina Ahmed – Sheikh MP , back in 2012 she joined the Advisory Board of Yes Scotland and the Cross Party campaign for Scottish Independence. In 2015 General Election she was elected to the British Parliament as SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire , earning 46% of the vote as the SNP took the seat from Labour incumbent Gordon Banks.
Following on from this was our “Finding Your Voice ” workshop , it was very well received , with good feedback. Lasting around 45 minutes , we engaged audience participation in small groups to discuss issues of importance, such as ” What changes would you like to see in an Independent Scotland” and how those with a disability can become involved in politics
Then we moved onto a Q and A session with DR Lisa Cameron MP , she is the Chair of all Party Parliamentary Disability Group , James Dornan MSP Disability Intern Programme , and the CEO from Inclusion Scotland Sally Wicher . It was a good debate and lots of good questions , what repeatedly came up is how best to support more people with a disability into paid work , there is still more work needed to raise awareness in to removing the employer barriers on how those applicants are percieved.
Leading on from this we heard from Dennis Robertson , he is the first blind MSP to be elected to the Scottish Parliament , after an education at the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh , also he did some work for the Guide dogs for the Blind. He also worked as a social worker.
Next up was a talk from Councillor Sheila Hands , who is also blind , from Angus Council . Then it was the turn of the Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment Marco Biagi MSP , he was openly gay before he was elected for his contributions in his support of the passage of Scotland’s same – sex marriage bill. He was also named in the inaugural Scotland on Sunday Pink List of 50 influential LGBT Scots in 2014 .
We were given a rare insight into Access to Politics scheme, if you would like a career in Politics. Scottish charities have welcomed a new £35,000 assistance package aimed at combating the under-representation of disabled people in politics. The news came on the eve of Scotland’s first International Disabled People’s Summit to discuss human rights and equality issues, which took place in Edinburgh on December 3rd, 2015.The Scottish Government revealed that the extra cash will be used for a pilot project, to be run by Inclusion Scotland until March 2016, to encourage more people with disabilities to become involved in politics. http://inclusionscotland.org/access-to-politics-project-launches/
At the end of the conference we heard from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon , lasting for about 25 mins , she invited and actively encouraged more people with a disability to become more involved in Politics, whether at a local or national level. She went on to talk some more about getting more people with a disability into work place. It was good to meet her, fellow MPs and other disabled members , it was a good insightful event and I would like to see events like this every year , and to work to continue to build on this momentum.