Claire Forde MSYP

Claire Forde (24) from Greenock has just completed her second two-year stint as a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) after being elected by her peers in 2017.

She is now urging other blind or partially sighted 14 to 25 year-olds to stand as candidates - two places are reserved for young people with sight loss.

Claire has optic nerve dystrophy, but it didn't stop her playing an active part in giving a voice to the issues and aspirations of all young people in Scotland.

The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) offers a democratically elected platform to all young people. Held every two years, the next SYP elections take place this November - but anyone thinking of standing as a candidate must express their interest by June 30th. To find out more, visit syp.org.uk.

Previous SYP campaigns that have been successful include incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law, and free bus travel for young people, which will be introduced later this year. Below, we ask Claire about her time as a MSYP.

Claire, what first motivated you to stand as an MSYP?

"For the past four years I have been a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament and am now coming to the end of my second term. If it was possible to stand for a third term, I would!

"I lost most of my sight at 18 years old. Since then, on my journey, I have encountered many extraordinary people, living with blindness or sight loss, whose personal stories of courage and determination have inspired me.

"Shortly after losing my sight I joined RNIB Scotland's Haggeye youth forum, where I made friendships, exchanged ideas, found empathy and built up my confidence. It was suggested that I would be a good candidate to represent Haggeye at the Scottish Youth Parliament and I agreed to have my name put forward.

"As an MSYP, I have acquired skills and developed talents that I did not know I possessed. Being a MSYP has helped me find my voice and has given me the confidence to express my opinions and to fly the flag for young people living with blindness and sight loss.

"As an MSYP I have addressed the Scottish Parliament, accepted a Scottish YouthLink award on behalf of Haggeye, sought to influence future government policy on disability rights, discussed politics with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, had a motion passed overwhelmingly and many other things.

"I have always been interested in politics. The chance to make a difference and improve things for blind and partially-sighted people in Scotland was the main motivating factor for me in applying to be an MSYP.  It has fulfilled all of my hopes and the benefits to me have been huge."

What did you enjoy most about being a MSYP?

"I love the camaraderie with my fellow MSYPs and the support and encouragement we give to each other during sittings. I enjoy travelling to new places in Scotland, where sittings are being held. Sittings take place from Orkney and Shetland to Port Patrick and, outwith debates, there is a thriving social aspect to the sittings. I have forged some great friendships with some very talented and inspirational MYSPs, who will go on to be very successful in whatever they choose to do in life.

"I have learned a great deal from my fellow MSYPs. I have relished taking part in debates on a range of issues and particularly have enjoyed the Members and Committee motions."

What particular issues did you push for, and was anything achieved?

"During my time as am MSYP, I have put forward a motion regarding accessible formats for menus in restaurants, which narrowly failed to be put forward as a motion. I have addressed the Children’s and Young People’s Rights Review at the Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh; I interviewed Stuart McMillan, my local MSP, on RNIB Connect Radio and I have launched campaigns to raise awareness of sight loss in young people.

"I have introduced my own initiatives, 'Tap and Tell', which encourages people meeting the blind or partially sighted to get into the habit of introducing themselves, even if they think that the blind or partially sighted person would be able to identify them through their voice alone. I was also nominated, with two other MSYPs, for an Outstanding Achievement Award at the last SYP sitting – although I did not win the award I was gratified to be nominated.

"Another initiative I introduced was 'Embrace the Cane'. Many blind or visually impaired young people are embarrassed to use a white cane – as we know, all young people are vain about how they look. Those not using a cane, however, are more likely to walk into things, to trip and fall or to be abused or even assaulted by fellow pedestrians for their 'clumsiness' or for 'not looking where they were going'.

"I was very gratified recently when a 14 year-old girl with sight loss told me that I had inspired her to proudly use her cane. It is the universal symbol for the blind and visually impaired and it is something that we should own and be proud of.

"By far my greatest achievement is having my motion on 'Mandatory Vision Awareness Training' being overwhelmingly passed and now in the process of becoming a reality. It seeks to have schools, universities, work places, corporate bodies, government departments, etc, implement mandatory training to raise awareness of vision impairment."

Why would you encourage other young people to stand as a MSYP, what benefits are there for them by doing so?

"I would encourage young people living with blindness or sight-loss to apply to become the next MSYP for Haggeye, as it will have a very positive impact on their lives. I benefitted from an increase in my independence and confidence and feel that I have made a difference in how blind and partially-sighted young people are perceived in Scotland.

"Many MSYPs - and MSPs - have told me that they have looked afresh at issues relating to the blind and partially-sighted community because of the work my fellow Haggeye MSYPs and I have done, and I am very proud of that. I would not hesitate in recommending anyone to  their name forward as a candidate to become an MSYP."

Thank you, Claire. As mentioned before, the next SYP elections take place this November - but anyone thinking of standing as a candidate must express your interest by June 30th. To find out more, visit syp.org.uk.