An Accessible Referendum

Making the Independence referendum accessible

FOR most people in Scotland today the 18 September marks a memorable anniversary. Whether you were on the winning or the losing side, the 2014 independence referendum was a momentous occasion and for many voters it was the culmination of a very positive democratic event.

Learning disability voters in Scotland were no less impacted by the vote. In fact, it is fair to say the ‘Indyref’ marked a real boost in political participation for people with learning disabilities in Scotland and the work of our fellow organisations and the extensive work and input of LDAS enabled us to develop an accessible politics system around it that is now being hailed by other countries as an example of best practice when it comes to engaging people with learning disabilities in the democratic process. In fact, we are now in the process of taking that work a step further and have some exciting news coming soon about it so stay tuned!

After the vote, LDAS produced a report on the process entitled ‘It’s our Scotland just as much as anyone else’s’ – a quote and a sentiment shared by many learning disability voters who often felt excluded or, all too often, dissuaded from voting. Looking back on the report – you can read it in full here – two things stand out.

The first is that the voting participation, the extent of the involvement of learning disability voters, was a great breakthrough and it was enabled because of the amount of time afforded to the referendum. The Brexit referendum in stark contrast is seen among the LDAS learning disability accessible politics groups as an ‘exclusionary’ event, with so little time to make as fully informed a decision as possible.  We are sure this is a sentiment that goes well beyond the LD community of course.

The Indyref period was extensive and it allowed for the development of argument and materials in response to the needs of LD voters. It offered the time needed for LD voters to engage on their terms. The report makes special mention of MSPs Jackie Baillie and Joan McAlpine for their video interviews that were singled out by LD voters as being really useful. Special voting workshops were designed and delivered with people with learning disabilities to LD groups across the whole of Scotland, something that could never have been achieved in the time given to Brexit.

The second thing that stands out in the report is that the barrier often put in front of LD voters that ‘they cannot understand and therefore should not vote’ was tackled head on and by the end of the process the information collected by LDAS shows that many LD voters could not only give sound reasons for voting as they did but many had come to be involved and take part in a process that initially they had no interest in, thinking that it did not concern them.

The ‘No’ side may have won the day but there was a very big yes to the vote itself from Scotland’s learning disability community. Yes to being given the time to make it as accessible as possible for as many LD voters as possible. Yes to LD voters being informed. Yes to being included. Yes to making their voices count with their votes. Yes to making politics accessible for all voters.

As discussion gets underway in the Scottish Parliament today about a future Indyref, the message from the LD community has to be that we get ample time to once again offer a referendum that is as accessible as the first.

*LDAS Stronger Together accessible politics groups are open to adults with learning disabilities. The monthly groups run in different regions of Scotland and are completely free to attend. If you or someone you know would be interested in attending the groups please get in touch here for more information or check out our calendar for the next group near you.

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