by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I am not, and never have been, a member of any political Party. I think the current in-fighting within the SNP shows why. Sooner or later, divisions appear within any organisation, especially when it is one which is involved in such an emotive and wide-ranging subject as politics.

Since I don’t know the full details of the reasonings behind the latest shenanigans, it is difficult to comment. Suffice to say that it is very disappointing that members who speak out vocally in support of strong action to gain independence seem to be being marginalised while those who appear to have other priorities are driving the direction of policy-making.

One thing which did astonish me was that the recent ruling of the SNP’s NEC gave an opportunity for disabled people to receive priority places on the Scottish election List. I have no problem with disabled people being given opportunities because they are usually severely under-represented, but I understand that the NEC received legal advice that such positive discrimination could be successfully challenged. That’s a matter for the lawyers, although it must be pointed out that things like women-only short lists have been around for a long time in many areas of life and have rarely been challenged.

No, what really surprised me was that these priority positions are to be given to people who self-identify as disabled. For me, that opens a whole new can of worms.

Disability is difficult to pin down because there are so many types of disability, and so much variety in the impact it can have on a person’s life. For example, if you break your leg or arm, you are definitely disabled, albeit hopefully temporarily. But what about diabetes? It’s definitely a serious medical illness, and it can cause real problems. So, too, can something like epilepsy. Are these disabilities even though they can largely be controlled by medication? No doubt those who suffer from them would argue that they are disabilities, and I find it hard to know where to draw the line. However, I know people who have diabetes and epilepsy, and I can assure you that they can lead lives which are a lot less difficult than mine, or of any person who needs to use a wheelchair. So where do we draw the line on self-identifying as having a disability? Does being short-sighted or slightly hard of hearing count?

The problem with self-identification, whether on disability, gender or anything else, is that it is far too open.

I’d be willing to bet that there are several people currently working in the Scottish Government who have diabetes. It’s not all that uncommon. Do they regard themselves as disabled? Does it prevent them doing their job? Does it prevent them driving a car or travelling independently? If it doesn’t, is it really a disability? I’m not picking on anyone who has diabetes because I know how careful those who have it need to be, but it can be managed and those who have it can lead fairly normal lives for the vast majority of the time, and the same goes for other medical conditions.

To take another example, are you disabled if you’ve had one leg amputated and use a prosthetic limb? Remember Oscar Pistorius competing in the Olympics? And yet, by any reasonable person’s view, he was surely disabled.

So where does this leave us? Is any one of us really qualified to say what constitutes a disability? Can we put a definition on it? Perhaps not, because, like so many things, disability is in the eyes of the beholder. That, however, is the big problem here. Self-identification as belonging to any category, whether it refers to disability, gender or anything else, is fine in everyday life, but when it comes to gaining priority for things like financial support, public office or anything similar, it is far too vague and, I’m afraid, open to abuse by those who wish to exploit a situation for their own purposes.

I don’t know any of the individuals involved in the NEC decision, nor can I comment on their motivations, but I think every person on that committee really ought to have given more thought to their decision. As it stands, the definition of who should be given priority is far too open.

Some disabilities are obvious, but all have degrees of seriousness. Some blind people can see a little, and some wheelchair users can stand or take a few steps. Does that mean they are not truly disabled? This is a really complex subject. It may be convenient to decide that self-identification removes the problem of how to assess how disabled a person may be, but in fact, it makes things more complex and, as mentioned earlier, open to abuse. If I, as someone with no vision at all, announced that I wished to self-identify as a sighted person, that would plainly be ridiculous. To come at the issue from the other direction is, I’m afraid, equally ridiculous.