Just as with the wider UK picture, the result of the recent General Election in Scotland was a little blurred when it came to assess who’d actually won. So what will this mean for disabled people living in Scotland?
By Tom Jamison
Perhaps when you’ve got 56 of the 59 seats available, as was the case for the Scottish National Party (SNP) after the 2015 General Election, there really is only one direction you can go. Of course, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP are still the largest party in Scotland but lost 21 seats – among them, symbolically important seats such as Moray, by the SNP’s deputy leader, Angus Robertson and Gordon by former First Minister, Alex Salmond.
Curiously then, just as south of the border, where Theresa May’s gamble lost her the Government’s majority and with a resurgent Labour Party – the winners have ended up looking like losers.
The other shift was a host of positive gains for the Scottish Conservatives who ended up with 13 seats; a far cry from the solitary seat they managed in 2015. It’s difﬁ cult to tell if this was down to the campaigning of rising political star, Ruth Davidson or if the 55% who voted to stay in the UK in the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 have again spoken, even if strategically. Indeed, the longed for ‘Indy Ref 2’ by the SNP seems, for the moment, to have lost traction.
Another blow to people supporting Scottish independence is the Westminster partnership between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. The Electorate in Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union last year and the DUP will certainly aim to hold the Conservatives to that way of thinking. Even though a second Scottish referendum might actually lead, in the longer term, to Scotland somehow staying in the EU if it doesn’t remain part of the UK, the referendum itself might ignite the idea in Northern Ireland of a vote on the subject of a united Ireland, which the DUP would oppose to the last. It stands to reason then, that so long as the DUP hold even a few strings in Westminster, a fresh referendum vote is unlikely to take place.
Nevertheless, independence supporters will argue that the partnership, from both a Westminster and Stormont perspective, might start to crumble. The difﬁculties of the arrangement in light of the Good Friday Agreement regarding power-sharing in Northern Ireland mean that Sinn Fein may not recognise the UK Government as a neutral broker and refuse to cooperate. Meanwhile in Westminster, if Theresa May can’t guarantee an exception to the hard border requirements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which remains an EU member state) that the DUP want, may also lead to difﬁculties.
Able Magazine interviewed all six of the major parties before the General Election, though not the DUP. The SNP’s Neil Gray told me during the campaign that independence would be good for Scottish disabled people and outlined the reasons, saying: “What we’re looking to do is to make things fairer. Now, if we had the whole, that’s all powers over social security, then clearly we would do a better job than what is happening right now. Obviously, issues for disabled people go beyond social security and we are doing what we can to make sure that disabled people have a fulﬁlling life.”
Naturally, Gray said that a second referendum was unstoppable. That was about a month ago and well, things have changed.
Interestingly, we also interviewed The Minister for Disabled People, Penny Mordaunt, who appeared to be in conciliatory mood over some of the disability issues I raised, perhaps due to the timing of our conversation, which took place after Theresa May had been forced into policy u-turns on the so-called ‘Dementia Tax’ and social care, saying: “It is very important (for people to have) conﬁdence in the system and it’s not just about getting it to run on rails and trying to make the right decisions every time – we do in the vast majority of cases – but where we don’t, we have to understand why that is happening.
There are lots of tweaks we can make to PIP… Things like the work capability assessment need to be not just tinkered with, but completely reformed.
We have got to really start to tailor support because, ultimately, what we’re trying to do is enable people to try, enable people to achieve their ambitions – and if we have well intended support … counter to that, then that has to change.”
For the moment then, despite all of the changes, nothing is likely to change for disabled people. Healthcare is a broadly devolved matter and the SNP are still in government. With little prospect of a second referendum in the near future, it’s unlikely that their policies, based on full devolution, or independence, will come to fruition.
Still at least that means that for older people, the winter fuel allowance is secure. The election might be over but I don’t think the fun and games are.