Elected Members; MPs, MSPs and Councillors

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1 Elected Members; MPs, MSPs and Councillors This ILiS DIY guide introduces the role of elected members such as Members of Parliament (MPs), Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and Councillors. It tells you a little about what they do and how, why and when you might use them. This guide also tells you where you can get more information. 1. What s it all about? 2. How can it help me? 3. What is lobbying? 4. Who covers what? Devolution and areas of responsibility 5. What can I do? 6. Checklist for action 7. Where can I get more information?

2 1. What s it all about? Elected members or elected representatives are the general names given to the people that we vote for in elections. In a democracy, government is usually carried out on behalf of the people by their elected representatives. These people are the main link between different governing organisations and their voters. In Scotland we can vote in five different political elections from European elections to elections for local community councils. This also means that there are five levels at which you can influence the way decisions affecting disabled people are taken. These 5 levels are: Elections to the European Parliament UK General Elections Scottish Parliament Elections Local Elections to Scottish Councils Elections to Community Councils Members of the European Parliament (MEP) are elected every 5 years Members of Parliament (MP) are elected for a maximum of 5 years. But Prime Ministers often call a general election before that. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) are elected every four years. The next election is due on 5th May Councillors for 32 local Councils are elected every 4 years. Normally at the same time as Scottish Parliament elections - now proposed that it should be 1 year later. Elections to these are determined locally and Community Councillors are voted for. They have statutory powers but do not exist in all communities.

3 The group of people or particular geographical area that an elected member represents is called a constituency. Having been voted in to represent their constituents, these elected members make laws (at a European, UK or Scottish level). Councillors will make decisions about policy, budgets and services at a local or community level. Elected members have a duty to represent everyone in their constituency - even if you personally did not vote for them. You do not have to share all of a person s political views to be able to work with them on issues you care about. 2. How can it help me? Elected members are funded to do what they do by public money. In other words they work for us. Despite this, many people do not know what constituency they live in, who their MEP, MP or MSP is or what that person does or says in your name. Elected members are more likely to take political decisions when people engage with them and tell them what their issues are and what needs to happen. Political power and influence is important for disabled people and for the Independent Living Movement. This is because all the issues that affect disabled people are decided on by elected members at some level, for example; Housing allocations are decided at locallevel. Healthcare decisions are made at Scottish national level. Welfare reform changes are made at UK level. Issues such as the European Disability Strategy are decided on at European level. If your elected representatives understand what independent living is all about and are aware of the issues facing disabled people, it is more likely they will act effectively on your behalf. They will also know that they can come to you for your expertise on the subject.

4 3. What is hobbying? Lobbying means working to influence an elected member. This can be done by an individual. It is increasingly done by organisations and some of these organisations employ a Parliamentary Officer who is a specialist in this field, or use an external consultancy to do this for them. Lobbying and influencing can be done by you as an individual disabled person. However it can be more powerful if you get together with others and form a stronger voice. Examples of how you might do this include; Getting a local politician to attend your campaign action group. Writing a jointly signed letter. Creating a petition (see Guide Number 3 - The Scottish Parliament Public Petitions System). 4. Who covers what? Devolution and areas of responsibility To be able to influence effectively, you need to make sure that you are talking to the right person about the right thing. Getting to the right person is important in deciding whether you should be talking to an MP, MSP or local Councillor about a certain issue. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for laws and decisions on Scottish issues; these are known as devolved issues. If you want to influence or lobby politicians on a devolved issue, you will need to contact the MSP who represents you. You may also contact MSPs who have a particular function within the Scottish Parliament such as the Chair a relevant Committee. The UK Parliament in London makes laws and decisions on areas that affect the whole of the UK and these are called reserved issues. If your issue relates to a reserved issue then you need to talk your MP in the UK Parliament.

5 The following list gives some of the main areas of law and policy that politicians deal with and shows whether they are reserved (to the UK Parliament) or devolved (to the Scottish Parliament). Key Devolved issues that may directly affecting disabled people Health Social work Education and training Local Government Housing Justice and police The environment Tourism, sport and heritage Economic development Scottish transport Key Reserved issues that may directly affect disabled people Finance and the economy Taxes Trade and industry National and international transport Social security and welfare Employment Equal opportunities

6 5. What can I do? Firstly, find out who your elected representatives are. Because there are both constituency and regional MSPs in Scotland, there are eight MSPs who have a duty to represent you. At a local level on your Council, you will be represented by the Councillor elected from your area. There may also be members of the Council who hold specific responsibility in key areas such as equalities, social work or housing. This may sound a bit complicated but there are some useful tools to help you identify who you need to speak to. The UK and Scottish Parliaments and local Councils all provide full lists of their elected members and people in key positions of responsibility (sometimes called office bearers). A very effective website called com lets you enter your postcode and provides you immediately with the names and contact details of all your local representatives. It also provides lots of additional guidance on who to contact on what issues and how best to do it. The site has a system where you can politicians directly while you are there. Secondly, be clear about what exactly you want to tell your elected member or what you want them to do. Depending on the different systems in place at different levels of government, your elected member may be able to do some or all of the following: Ask a question or raise the issue in parliament, council or a committee. Write to a specific Government Department or council department, or event to a Government Minister. Set up or join a cross party group with special subject interest. Introduce, vote on or amend legislation. If they have an executive role, they may be able to brief civil servants to do work on an issue. Raise the issue with the media or speak at a public meeting. Provide a statement of support or attend an event. It is a good idea to prepare a short written summary or a brief of what your issue is about. Politicians get contacted by lots of people every day and it is easier for them (and more likely to be effective) if you are clear what you want. A brief should; Tell an elected member what the problem is. Give real examples so they can see how it affects disabled people. Identify a solution. Try to keep to one page. Include contact details so they can contact you for more information.

7 6. Checklist for action Consider whether an elected member could do things for you that might help you or your group make progress on issues you are concerned about: Work out the right person or people to contact. Summarise your concern or issue in a short brief (why you are writing, why your concerns are relevant, what e evidence and examples you have, what you want done, possible counterarguments to any potential opposition). Identify actions that may influence or gain the attention of your elected members. These might include attending public meetings, attending surgeries at a constituency office, having a one to one meeting, launching a petition or getting involved in lawful direct action (such as demonstrating outside the council chambers or Parliament building). Think win-win : what will help both you and your elected member? For example, positive media coverage, large audiences or working on issues that will benefit lots of people Focus on the outcome; what is most likely to get the result you want?

8 7. Where can I get more information? A lot of information is web-based. If you cannot access the internet why not ask a friend, family member, carer or even a local group to obtain the information for you. Some website owners will have the information available in other formats too if you ask them. If not, you might want to raise this with them and challenge them to make all their information accessible to everyone. You might also want to read further guides in this series on developing policy and using the public petitions system in Scotland (Guide Number 3). A useful website is com. By entering your Post Code you will find out who all your elected members are and be able to them directly by using the site. A useful website is www. theyworkforyou.com. This provides information on parliamentary business and lets you check what activity or political position any elected member has undertaken recently. You can contact any MSP at the Scottish Parliament: dial and ask for your MSP s office. Or write to them at The Scottish Parliament, EDINBURGH, EH99 1SP. Or . All the Parliament addresses follow the same formula. First name, followed by surname followed by.msp e.g. parliament.uk. Independent Living in Scotland Equality & Human Rights Commission 58 Robertson Street, Glasgow G2 8DU T F E W

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