MSPs consider ending outright ban on prisoner voting rights

MSPs will consider whether to end an outright ban on voting rights for prisoners. Picture: Robert PerryMSPs will consider whether to end an outright ban on voting rights for prisoners. Picture: Robert Perry
MSPs will consider whether to end an outright ban on voting rights for prisoners. Picture: Robert Perry
Green MSP Patrick Harvie will call for Scotland to become a 'beacon of fairness' as he urges a Holyrood committee to back an end to the outright ban on prisoners voting.

After more power over elections was devolved to the Scottish Parliament, MSPs on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee are to consider the issue.

Mr Harvie, the Scottish Green co-convener, will speak out against the blanket ban which prevents offenders in prison from voting, arguing that it is a breach of human rights.

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The Committee will also take evidence from former offender Beverley Smith and David Straing, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, as well as leading figures from the Law Society, the Electoral Management Board for Scotland and the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Mr Harvie previously tried to change the franchise so that prisoners could take part in the 2014 independence referendum, with MSPs from the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all voting against his amendments.

He said: “Having temporary control over the franchise for the 2014 referendum forced Holyrood to consider an issue which had previously only been debated at Westminster. Now that we have full responsibility for elections in Scotland, we are faced with an absolute requirement to revisit the issue.

“The UK Tory Government may want to scrap the Human Rights Act, but the SNP have supported it, as do the Greens. It is therefore a point of principle that Holyrood must change the law to comply with human rights. The blanket ban must therefore be ended. Stopping all prisoners voting, regardless of the nature of their offence or the length of their sentence, clearly breaches human rights, and the current position cannot hold.”

Mr Harvie continued: “Prisoners, especially those due for release, should be faced with their responsibilities as members of the society to which they will return.

“While voting is only one aspect of that, it is an important and symbolic one. Giving prisoners the right to vote would also give politicians an incentive to take the state of our prisons seriously, and invest in the rehabilitation services which will make all our communities safer.

“If we want Scotland to become a beacon for fairness, and if we believe in rehabilitating offenders, we must look at all the options, have the debate, and end the ban.”

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Speaking ahead of the meeting, committee convener Christina McKelvie said: “The greater devolution of election management to the Scottish Parliament rightly means we need to ask questions about who has the right to vote. This is an issue that needs careful consideration by Parliament.

“Could voting rights be taken into account by judges passing sentence? Should the blanket ban remain? Should all prisoners enjoy the right to vote?

“Our committee wants to air the main issues and hear about the practical aspects of prisoners voting, before any further steps are taken.”