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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Learning disabled demand answers on independence

This opinion piece is over 9 years old

Peter Scott is calling on both sides of the referendum to better engage with people with learning disabilities to help them use their vote well

Peter Scott, Enable Scotland
Peter Scott, Enable Scotland

Given the social isolation experienced by so many people in Scotland who have learning disabilities, and the acknowledged lower levels of voter registration they have, it is heartening to see their increasing and enthusiastic participation and influence on a decision which affects the entire population.

The Scottish independence referendum is the most topical and heated debate facing the nation, and one in which everyone is entitled to a view and a choice.

I am adamant that both the yes and no campaigns have an obligation to ensure as few people as possible feel marginalized from this process. There are at least 120,000 people who have learning disabilities in Scotland, together with tens of thousands of carers. Can either campaign afford to ignore them or give them a choice?

At Enable Scotland – the country’s leading charity for people who have learning disabilities - we are consulting our members, exploring their most pressing issues and questions.

What strikes me most is the glaring contrast between the issues they raise, and those frequently highlighted in the media, where complex political and economic bantering is largely focused on fluctuating oil revenues, currency union, pensions and EU membership.

Yes, these potential implications are exceptionally important, but why do they exclude the issues that most impact our 4,500 members?

They wanted to know which campaign would commit to reducing the shocking incidence of disability hate crime, bullying and harassment

At recent meetings of our self-advocacy groups, members rightly demanded answers in order to inform their thinking and, ultimately, their vote. What would independence mean for them? Would either a yes or no vote result in increased employment opportunities and equality for citizens who have learning disabilities? Would the significant health inequalities they experience be reduced?

And they wanted to know which campaign would commit to reducing the shocking incidence of disability hate crime, bullying and harassment.

At a recent meeting of Enable Scotland’s elected body, almost 50 members representing our charity’s governance propelled the referendum and its every day implications to the forefront.

Members want to know about the prospects for children who have learning disabilities. Will social work departments be properly resourced and educational experiences enhanced? Only one in three people who have a learning disability, according to recent research, can name a close friend – and how can that be addressed?

While in my experience, more than half of Enable Scotland members seem undecided, many say the Better Together and Yes Scotland campaigns are not doing enough to reach out to them and give them a voice. Both camps, though, have agreed to participate in hustings and the production of accessible information.

With partners the Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability, Enable Scotland is conducting surveys with people who have learning disabilities and carers to gather information, to prepare a manifesto.

The increased level of awareness and enthusiasm for voter registration can only be a positive step. There is a joint responsibility, regardless of the referendum outcome, to build on this heightened democratic engagement.

Enable is running hustings events in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling.

Peter Scott is chief executive of Enable Scotland

This is part of a series of TFN articles that focus on the #Missingmillion people who are not intending to vote in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September.