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Disabled people need a champion


Jeremy Balfour MSP sets out his plans to create a Disability Commissioner for Scotland – and asks for your help in making it happen

Much attention is being given to inclusion and tolerance in Scotland these days.

Fierce debates are taking place surrounding who or what should be regarded as worthy of existing in the public square.

I am certain that whoever you speak to will tell you that they are striving to ensure that everyone feels welcome in Scotland.

However, a recent news story revealed that despite all our talk about inclusion, Scotland still has a long way to go in making everyone feel welcome.

Parents of children attending a primary school in the north east of Scotland were appalled to be given the option of purchasing a class photograph with certain disabled individuals left out. It was a blatant act of discrimination and left several families feeling distraught.

To describe this incident as insulting would be an understatement. It was an inhumane act of erasure that brought me to the verge of tears. It demonstrates that, despite the warm words and public rhetoric on the surface, there exists a very ugly undercurrent that wishes disabled people would simply disappear.

I understand that many people will find this shocking, but disabled individuals will see it as the latest in an ever-growing list of examples of discrimination they face.

If we are truly to address the core issue of this photo debacle, we must see it as a symptom of a much bigger problem.

The reality is that disabled people need a champion. They need someone to stand up for them at all levels of government and advocate on their behalf when their voices seem to be ignored. That is why I have proposed a bill to establish a Disability Commissioner for Scotland in the Scottish Parliament.

To be clear, I am NOT saying that had a commissioner been in place, this incident would not have happened. What I AM saying is that a commissioner with the appropriate investigatory powers could be advocating on behalf of the victims to obtain answers from all involved parties. They could also dissuade others from attempting such actions in the future.

I have spent the past year drafting a bill that I believe will effectively establish the commissioner with the necessary powers and responsibilities to promote and safeguard the rights of disabled people across Scotland. I recently introduced the bill to parliament to begin the process of realizing this goal. It has been assigned to the Equalities, Human Rights, and Civil Justice Committee for scrutiny. It has requested input from the public and third-sector that will inform their report to the entire parliament.

It is crucial that you have your say. You can submit your views by visiting the Scottish Parliament website ( and completing their online form.

The more support we have, the better chance we have of making this champion for disabled people a reality.

Jeremy Balfour is Conservative MSP for Lothian.



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