03 December 2019

S5M-18901 Purple Light-up Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18901, in the name of Jeremy Balfour, on #PurpleLightUp, a global movement for change. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the work of the Purple Light Up campaign, which celebrates the economic power of disabled people all over the world; notes that #PurpleLightUp aims to link the colour with disabled employee networks and resource groups and the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which takes place every 3 December; understands that the campaign is led by disabled employees and challenges organisations and businesses to consider what it would take to join up disability networks in order to build a movement that drives cultural change from the inside out and enables business leaders to learn from their own people and to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled people, and notes the calls encouraging disabled employees to shout out about their talents and for businesses, disabled organisations and governments to listen, act and innovate in order to improve opportunities for disabled people.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate Jeremy Balfour on securing the debate and thank him for doing so. I, like others, welcome the opportunity to celebrate the important work of the purple light-up campaign to highlight the talent of disabled workers and what they bring to the workplace. I will make an obvious point: “disabled workers” might be a single label, but it hides a vast array of disabilities and talents and we should not imagine that one label covers it.

I will talk about one of my late pals, who died three years ago. Brian Rattray was a pal, a colleague and a great political campaigner. When I joined the Bank of Scotland as a trainee programmer in 1969, Brian was already in situ, working as a programmer. He had been totally blind since an accident he had at about the age of 12.

I was ensconced in a room in a rather cold building in George Street, Edinburgh, learning how to do computer programming. A guy came in—he was always silent—went across the room, sat down at a card punch machine, punched away at his programmes, took them out and just walked out. Being the new boots, in my first week at the bank, I was ignored by him totally and I said nothing to him. It was very cold and I moved a little closer to me the two-bar electric fire that the bank, in its largesse, had provided for heating the room. The next time Brian came in, he walked straight through it and it was only then, after three or four days, that I realised that he was blind. So adapted was he to his environment that I was unaware of it. He was not ignoring me because he was rude, and he definitely did not ignore me after he tripped over my fire: I got a volley of abuse that would have done justice to anybody in the shipyards of the Clyde or any of our industrial factories.

Brian never let his disability get in the way of the job he was doing. He refused for years to have a guide dog; he walked along the street and you could not keep up with how fast he walked, waving his white stick. On one memorable occasion, he walked over—that is the only way I can describe it—the chief executive of the Bank of Scotland, who was coming the other way and did not dodge out of the way quick enough. Brian just walked over him, swore at him and continued on. That was how Brian treated life.

His blindness, however, meant something very important that made him extremely valuable to his colleagues. Because it was difficult for him to read all the technical manuals relating to our job, he had basically memorised them all. Whenever you needed the answer to a question that was technical and deep, you simply asked Brian. He was genuinely the brains and the memory of the outfit, and I will treasure the memory of him forever.

We had John, who was also blind. He had very slight sight and his hobby, amazingly enough, was flying gliders. He never got to fly solo, but he loved looping the loop in a glider, under supervision. There is no limit to what people can do, except the limits that we impose upon them: that is an important point.

Jeremy Balfour referred to the Scottish Government’s work. We have seen a decrease in disability unemployment, which is good, but we are only just on target for halving disability unemployment by 2038. I would certainly like to see us move a little faster. The Government itself is recruiting more disabled staff. We identified in 2018 that 16 per cent of recruits identified as disabled; two years earlier it was eight per cent. So the Government is doing its bit.

Others must also help to create a society where disabled people generally have equal access to education, as Jackie Baillie said, because of the contribution that they can make. Programmes such as Fair Start Scotland are making a big difference. The improved participation of young people in modern apprenticeship programmes is removing some of the barriers that disabled people experience. The motion calls on,

“businesses, disabled organisations and governments to listen, act and innovate”.

I see evidence that they are, but we have a lot more still to do.


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