Tomorrow the Petitions Committee at the Scottish Parliament will consider my petition that called for real and meaningful change for those living with autism in Scotland.
The aim of the petition was to challenge the notion that the national autism strategy had delivered significant improvements. You can watch the debate here from 9.30am on 20.12.18
I have very little faith in what passes for democracy at both Holyrood and Westminster and to get the petition this far has been very difficult. Very often in an advocacy role one is required to put their head above the parapet and face the combined attack of those in power.
Sadly this process has been little different and I have little hope or chance of having influence on these policies I fear.
The story starts around 15 months ago with a response to the Scottish Government’s failing autism strategy. We were approximately 7 years into a costly 10 year fiasco and the SG had decided to change the previously set goals to even more vague ‘outcomes ‘. You can see them here. This type of stunt is all to common in politics sadly and effectively muddies the water so much that no clear analysis can be made as to the success of an initiative. You will be familiar with how it works – all parties can claim some capital apart from the recipients of the service, who inevitably find themselves exactly where they were previously.
I started a petition to gather support for some clear, simple and meaningful goals that might be set for the SG’s autism strategy. Not surprisingly the idea played well with many in the autism community and the petition quickly gathered in excess of 2k signatures. The comments, around 200 of them painted a picture of autism services in Scotland that was much closer to reality.
I closed the petition hosted by change.org and forwarded it to the SG in the hope it might be acknowledged in the context of the ‘consultation’ that they were running on their new outcomes.
Their online ‘consultation ‘ however was not interested in changing the outcomes- oh no. They were about how they would implement what they had decided upon. A very sinister and all to common tactic in ‘policy development ‘ these days involves what politicians like to call ‘consultation.’ This allows them to start final policy documents with the phrase ‘you told us’…… On closer scrutiny though these ‘consultations’ typically involve very small numbers and very tightly controlled events.
Typically they will be invitation only and are arranged around a very inflexible agenda. The SG consultation on these final strategy outcomes involved an online questionnaire and four events that were only concerned with how their outcomes were taken forward. Discussion out with this was not permitted. How transparent the online consultation results were I am not sure. A combined number of just over 1000 contributions were claimed although how many were the same folk contributing twice is not clear. In Scotland today a conservative estimate of the number of people with autism is in excess of 50,000. If we estimate conservatively that 2 additional people will be affected by a loved ones autism to some degree, then we can assume some 150,000 people have a stake in these matters. Yet the SG pass off their sample as if it were the voice of the autism community. Link Sadly it’s a common tactic nowadays.
My petition was submitted approximately 1 year ago. The consultation ended in the spring ‘ratifying ‘ the SG’s outcomes for the strategies final phase. Still I heard nothing and then in July I received a reply! After some digging I was informed by civil servants at the Parliament that the sheer volume of petitions meant there was a delay in responding. I was assured they were impartial but am honestly not sure. A helpful petition clerk helped me reframe the petition slightly to reflect the decisions made while my original petition gathered dust. On the Scottish Parliament website the petition performed less well achieving approximately half as many signatures as previously. Still it was supported by in excess of 1k and the comments are interesting, again pointing at a much less satisfactory view of autism services.
After a short initial mention at the petition committee of 27.9.18 (approx 1.35 to 1.40) at which only the SNP member declined to comment, it is to be discussed again tomorrow.
The petition has had additional information added in the form of short statements from the 11 local authorities that bothered to comment as well as the SG, ANS and some autism charities. My response submitted on Sunday never made an appearance until last night and that was after another fight with a clerk. It was the volume of work again that was the problem apparently!
My response is not presently on the papers for tomorrow’s committee and has not been included in the rather loaded summaries of submissions written by a petition clerk. Again this is disappointing and the summary lacks balance in my opinion.
As an unpaid autism carer it’s been very difficult to find the time and space to get this far and I have had to submit documents that given more time and resources might have been stronger but the playing field is never even it seems.