British Sign Language - national plan: progress report

A progress report on the British Sign Language (BSL) national plan.

13. Democracy

13.1 Progress in Democracy

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that everyone in Scotland who wants to take part in politics is able to do so, to whichever level they wish. BSL users must have the same level of access as everyone else in the electoral process, our institutions, and our political parties.

The National Plan defined a number of actions around politics and democracy, including evaluating the needs of BSL signers, improving access to information, and providing support.

The Scottish Parliament election of 2021 was a key point within the timeframe of the BSL National Plan, and an opportunity to assess progress made in the field of democracy and politics.

  • The Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) (AEOFS) is administered by Inclusion Scotland, with funding from the Scottish Government. It works to remove barriers in pursuit of elected office, including meeting the needs of BSL users.
  • A series of BSL videos was produced by the Electoral Commission in the run-up to the 2021 election, covering topics like registering to vote, completing ballot papers and COVID-19 safety measures at polling stations.
  • In 2021, Returning Officers used social media and other platforms to provide information on voting to BSL users.
  • The Electoral Commission provided guidance to Returning Officers and other Polling Station staff, including an accessibility checklist.
  • The Scottish Government has worked with partner organisations to promote awareness of the challenges faced by BSL users at elections.

13.2 Actions and outcomes

Action No. 65


Evaluate the Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) used in the Local Government elections in 2017 to ensure that it meets the needs of BSL users* who wish to stand for selection and election, and make any necessary changes in time for the next Scottish Parliament election in 2021.

Update June 2021

The Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) is administered by Inclusion Scotland with funding provided by the Scottish Government. Inclusion Scotland produced an evaluation report for the operation of the fund in 2017, and have drafted a report (as yet unpublished) for the 2021 Scottish Parliament Election.

In the 2017 Scottish Local Government elections, there were 39 disabled candidates supported by the Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland). Of these candidates, 15 were elected in 12 different councils. One BSL user received an award in 2017.

While no recipients of the AEOFS awards were elected to the Scottish Parliament in the 2021 election, it is promising that 14 recipients became regional list candidates and 5 recipients were constituency candidates in the election. In this round of awards, there were four BSL user recipients, of which two withdrew and didn't use any funding, and two ran for selection to be constituency candidates along with being on their party list. One award recipient for a Local Government by-election went on to be elected as the first BSL user councillor in Scotland. He is Cllr Grant Ferguson, East Kilbride Central North.

It is notable that the AEOFS as a model has drawn international interest, and that colleagues in the Welsh Government used it as a guide for developing their own Fund.

There has also been extensive work by Inclusion Scotland with political parties to remove barriers to participation for members with disabilities, including their Access to Politics Charter.

Links to the Access for Elected Office Fund, as well as similar information on accessibility and inclusion in public life, are included by Returning Officers in nomination packs for candidates.

The removal of barriers to pursuit of elected office remains an important workstream for the Scottish Government, including meeting the needs of BSL users.

Action No. 66


Work with election organisations, political parties and BSL users* to ensure that the needs of BSL users*are being met, enabling them to participate fully in politics.

Update June 2021

The Scottish Government works with the Scottish Parliament Political Parties Panel, Inclusion Scotland, the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Management Board (EMB) to promote awareness of the challenges faced by BSL users at elections. Inclusion Scotland attended meetings of the SPPPP to discuss these issues, and encourage attendees to sign up to their Access to Politics Charter.

We have also engaged through the EMB on the work undertaken by electoral professionals in this regard. In addition to the information campaigns by the Electoral Commission outlined in Action 67 below, Returning Officers used social media and other platforms to communicate information on voting to BSL users. Electoral Registration Officers provided information on postal voting through a TV advert which provided information of particular relevance during the pandemic, a subtitled version of which was made available on social media.

Action No. 67


Work with the Electoral Commission in ensuring improved information about voting for BSL users* is made available in time for the next Scottish Parliament election in 2021 and review whether it has been effective.

Update June 2021

The Electoral Commission worked extensively to ensure BSL users were provided with the information they needed ahead of the election.

This included a series of BSL videos based on the information booklet sent to all households. The videos cover registering to vote, how to complete the ballot papers, what to expect when voting in terms of COVID-19 safety measures and other important information. They are available on the Electoral Commission's YouTube channel here. Links to these videos were shared extensively across social media platforms and with partners in the stakeholder community.

The Commission also provides extensive guidance to electoral professionals, and the Polling Station Handbook included specific information to help Returning Officers support voters with disabilities, including an accessibility checklist for setup at polling stations.

As a result of provisions in the Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020, the Commission must include an evaluation of the accessibility arrangements and outcomes in their reports on Scottish elections. The evaluation process will include contributions from the stakeholder community and people with disabilities, as well as continuing engagement with the Scottish Government on best practice and lessons learned.

Action No. 68


Work with the political parties, encouraging them to produce election information in BSL in time for the next Scottish Parliament election in 2021.

Update June 2021

As noted in Action 66 above, the Scottish Government has worked with the SPPPP to promote consideration of these important issues. The Electoral Commission report on accessibility at the recent Scottish Parliament election will also provide useful detail on actions taken to support disabled candidates and voters in 2021.

Action No. 69


Promote public appointments as a way of participating in public life by producing information about public appointments in BSL, and promoting public appointments specifically to BSL users*.

Update June 2021

In 2019 we commissioned Deaf Action to produce a video on public appointments specifically for Deaf and Deafblind BSL users which is hosted on the public appointments website (Appointed for Scotland).

Action No. 70


Ensure that the Scottish Government guidance about board appointments includes specific reference to BSL users*.

Update June 2021

The public appointments website (Appointed for Scotland) signposts Deaf and Deafblind BSL users to the contactSCOTLAND-BSL, the on-line British Sign Language interpreting service.



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