EXCLUSIVE: red tape blocks disabled from becoming election candidates

Disabled cropped

Outrage as legislation prevents disabled candidates getting financial support from Scottish Government

12th May 2017 by Robert Armour 2 Comments

Strict rules governing election expenses means disabled people are being discouraged from becoming candidates for next month’s general election.

A Scottish Government fund which was hugely successful in enabling disabled people to become local councillors won't be extended ahead of the 8 June snap election for fear of falling foul of the Scotland Act. 

The access to elected office (AEO) fund (Scotland) is administered by Inclusion Scotland and enabled 39 disabled candidates to take part in local elections - 15 of whom were elected to 12 councils.

The fund, which remains open, offers grants to disabled people to help with additional costs they may face in standing for election as a councillor, such as extra transport or sign language interpreters.

It is understood that the Scottish Government and Inclusion Scotland looked to see if the fund could be extended to General Election campaigning immediately following the announcement of the snap-election. 

While the Electoral Commission said there was no barrier to proceeding, legal advice from lawyers working for Scottish Government said that extending the fund would fall foul of the Scotland Act on the grounds that Westminster elections are wholly reserved matters. 

The precursor to the Scottish scheme, the UK government's access to elected office fund, ran from 2012 to 2015 and offered grants of between £250 and £40,000 to disabled people to help with additional costs.

But this was scrapped, meaning disabled candidates now have few avenues for financial support ahead of this election. 

Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, said: “It’s disappointing because, as an organisation, we want to ensure disabled people have the same opportunities as others.

“The Scottish fund is hugely successful and very encouraging. So it’s a blow it’s not available for the general election.

“Supporting more disabled people into politics is vital in the bid for greater equality. We need to get more campaigners into positions of power but the lack of financial support is telling.

“Normal campaigning costs for disabled people should not be seen as additional. These should be made available because otherwise disabled candidates cannot campaign equal to others. Without financial support they cannot compete.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed to TFN election rules prevented funds being made available.

She said: “All aspects of election to the House of Commons are reserved, which means Scottish ministers cannot extend the scope of the Scottish Access to Elected Office Fund to disabled candidates who wish to stand in the general election.” 

An Electoral Commission spokesman said: "The Electoral Commission strongly believes in a democracy that is accessible to all and we actively promoted the Access to Elected Office Fund Scotland in the lead up to the council elections.

"We advised Scottish Government and Inclusion Scotland on the implementation of the fund. We welcome the success of the fund during the recent elections.

“The use of the access to elected office fund Scotland at the UK General Election was not halted as a result of Electoral Commission guidance. Indeed, we offered to advise the Scottish Government if they wished to consider extending the fund.

“We continue to work closely with Scottish Government on a range of issues of importance to voters.”

12th May 2017 by Phyl Meyer

Hi there, I wish to correct some misleading elements of this article. The Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) has NOT been scrapped. The Fund is still in operation and the Scottish Government has committed to continuing it to the next Scottish Parliament elections. We will continue to offer support for Local Authority and Scottish Parliament by-elections during that time. The Fund is unable to offer financial support for costs for General Election candidates because these are specifically reserved to Westminster under the Scotland Act 1998. This means there would be legal issues for a Scottish Government fund to be involved without provision being made to permit this. Work was rapidly done after the announcement of the snap election to ascertain if the Fund could be operated for the General Election but it seems the legal advice was clear. Inclusion Scotland can however still offer non-financial advice and support to disabled candidates and parties wishing to support them with any impairment related barriers. Contact: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Finally it is worth pointing out that not all impairment-related additional costs have to be counted towards campaign expenditure under existing UK election rules, and the Electoral Commission Scotland has offered to advise candidates on this.

12th May 2017 by RealFreedom

TFN printing nonsense in a story? Get away.