Worst crim­i­nals should not get the right to vote, says Stur­geon

The Herald - - POLITICS - TOM GOR­DON PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

SCOT­LAND’S worst pris­on­ers should not get the right to vote, Nicola Stur­geon has said.

De­spite some of her SNP col­leagues back­ing a uni­ver­sal fran­chise for those serv­ing cus­to­dial sen­tences, the First Min­is­ter said she did not be­lieve it would be right.

She told MSPS she op­posed giv­ing the vote to those in prison for “the most se­ri­ous and heinous crimes”, and called for a “grown-up de­bate” on the is­sue, ap­pear­ing to ac­cept that some pris­on­ers would get a vote in fu­ture.

The Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights (ECHR) has re­peat­edly ruled that the au­to­matic ban on pris­oner vot­ing in the UK is dis­pro­por­tion­ate and a breach of hu­man rights.

Ear­lier this week, Holy­rood’s Equal­i­ties Com­mit­tee rec­om­mended the “ar­bi­trary” ban should end in Scot­land, and that all in­mates, re­gard­less of their crime, should be given the right to vote.

The rec­om­men­da­tion was sup­ported by the SNP, Labour and Lib­dem MSPS on the com­mit­tee, with only the Tories op­posed.

The com­mit­tee said the change – made pos­si­ble by the 2016 Scot­land Act giv­ing Holy­rood the power to change its own elec­tions - would help so­ci­ety, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and democ­racy.

SNP con­vener Christina Mckelvie said some cases would appear “dis­taste­ful, but we need to think about re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, and not fur­ther ex­clud­ing and alien­at­ing peo­ple from so­ci­ety”.

How­ever at First Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions, Ms Stur­geon made it clear she dis­agreed.

It fol­lowed Tory MSP Murdo Fraser quot­ing cam­paigner John Muir, whose son Damien was fa­tally stabbed in Greenock in 2007, say­ing votes for all pris­on­ers would be an “ob­scen­ity”.

Ms Stur­geon said she was not crit­i­cis­ing the Holy­rood com­mit­tee for its work on the “dif­fi­cult and sen­si­tive” is­sue, and the law would be made Echr-com­pli­ant.

But she added: “It is my view that we should not give the vote to all pris­on­ers.

“I’m cer­tainly not per­suaded of en­fran­chis­ing pris­on­ers who are in prison for the most se­ri­ous and heinous crimes and are per­haps in prison for lengthy pe­ri­ods of time and I don’t think that is re­quired to com­ply with the ECHR.

“There is a proper, ma­ture, grown-up de­bate that this par­lia­ment re­quires to have.”

She said there would now be a con­sul­ta­tion with stake­hold­ers on the is­sue be­fore a vote.

Green MSP John Fin­nie urged Ms Stur­geon to give all pris­on­ers the vote. He said: “The cur­rent ban nei­ther pro­tects pub­lic safety nor acts as an ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent against crime.

“If the First Min­is­ter re­ally sees Scot­land as a pro­gres­sive bea­con, then I’d urge her to get be­hind the prin­ci­ple that the right to vote is not a re­ward that we give to some cit­i­zens, but a ba­sic hu­man right that we all in­herit in a democ­racy.

“Pris­on­ers can al­ready vote in Den­mark, Fin­land, Swe­den and Ire­land and, un­less the First Min­is­ter changes her view on pris­oner vot­ing, that she doesn’t ‘sup­port en­fran­chis­ing all pris­on­ers’, then Scot­land will not be able to claim the sta­tus of be­ing a pro­gres­sive bea­con.”

For­mer jus­tice sec­re­tary Kenny Ma­caskill said change is “over­due”. Lib­dem MSP Alex Cole-hamil­ton said the First Min­is­ter had to spell out ex­actly what change she had in mind.

We need to think about re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion not fur­ther alien­ation

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