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Prisoners could be given the right to vote in Scotland

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation, with only the Tories opposed to extending the franchise to inmates on short sentences.

The Scottish Government has proposed to allow prisoners on short term sentences to vote (Anthony Devlin/PA)
The Scottish Government has proposed to allow prisoners on short term sentences to vote (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation to decide whether to grant the vote to prisoners on short sentences.

The European Convention on Human Rights found in 2005 that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was in breach of its article requiring government to support an individual’s right to free expression by holding free elections at reasonable intervals.

Holyrood gained new powers over elections as a result of the Scotland Act in 2016 and MSPs are now able to give consideration as to how to comply.

The Scottish Government has given its view that “it is not appropriate to give all prisoners the right to vote” but indicated it would support extending the franchise to those on short sentences.

A blanket ban on prisoner voting flouts international law so change is long overdue Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP called the ban on prisoner voting “arbitrary, pointless and inconsistent with human rights”.

He said: “The Greens have consistently made the case for change and we welcome the fact that this issue will now be formally on the agenda.

“The consultation should be focused on achieving consistency in terms of justice, rehabilitation and democratic participation.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said the blanket ban was neither fair nor progressive.

“A blanket ban on prisoner voting flouts international law so change is long overdue,” he said.

“The change in heart by the SNP is welcome after they voted down Liberal Democrat amendments that would have given some prisoners on short-term sentences the vote in both the independence referendum and the last Holyrood elections.

“A blanket ban isn’t fair, progressive or in the interests of rehabilitation.

“Opting to alienate people rather than invite them to be more engaged and aware of their responsibilities as citizens is not in society’s wider interests either.”

The Scottish Conservatives are the only party to oppose prisoners having the right to vote.

The party’s equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “The committee report correctly identified that there are significant logistical difficulties with organising voting in prison, regardless of the length of sentence.

“Our focus is on ensuring that victims are the centre of our justice system, not the criminal.

“Along with the presumption against sentences of less than 12 months, this proposal is another soft-touch justice message from the SNP.

“Our message is clear. If you break the law and require to be removed from society, you will not be allowed to vote.”

Cabinet Secretary for Government Business Mike Russell said: “The Scottish Government believes it is not appropriate to remove the ban on prisoner voting in its entirety, nor do we believe that is what is required of us by the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We also recognise that proposals to extend voting rights to prisoners might raise concerns about the feelings of the victims of crime.

“However, the current situation is not tenable in terms of our human rights obligations and that is why we have launched this public consultation, which will enable us to take proportionate action on the matter.

“Our aim is therefore to seek views from and engage with the public on which prisoners should be allowed to vote – and crucially on what the length of sentence should be for prisoners to be granted this right.

“We are open to hear all opinions and we invite as many people as possible to engage with us and submit their views by Friday March 8 2019.”

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