Pris­on­ers given right to vote for first time

● Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment brings in ‘tem­po­rary’ move for by-elec­tion spark­ing Tory anger

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By GINA DAVID­SON

Pris­on­ers will be able to vote for the first time in a Scot­tish elec­tion af­ter the UK gov­ern­ment’s blan­ket ban was ruled a breach of their hu­man rights.

The Shet­land by-elec­tion will give pris­on­ers serv­ing sen­tences of 12 months or less, and who would nor­mally live on the is­land, the right to cast a vote, de­spite be­ing be­hind bars.

It is ex­pected to af­fect fewer than five peo­ple if they choose to reg­is­ter to vote be­fore 13 Au­gust.

The Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights (ECHR) said in 2005 that the blan­ket ban on pris­oner vot­ing should be lifted, but did not say all pris­on­ers should be able to vote.

In 2017 the UK gov­ern­ment an­nounced a com­pro­mise, which sat­is­fied the court, al­low­ing a lim­ited num­ber of con­victed pris­on­ers the vote, but only af­ter pow­ers over elec­tion fran­chises were de­volved to the Scot­tish Parliament in the same year.

As a re­sult, the Scot­tish Elec­tions (Fran­chise and Rep­re­sen­ta­tion) Bill was lodged in the Scot­tish Parliament, and, if passed, will ex­tend the right to vote to short-term pris­on­ers in coun­cil and Holy­rood elec­tions.

How­ever, to en­sure the Shet­land by-elec­tion aligns with the ECHR rul­ing, con­sti­tu­tional re­la­tions sec­re­tary, Michael Rus­sell, will make a Re­me­dial Or­der, to en­sure the elec­tion is se­cure.

Mr Rus­sell said: “The courts have been crys­tal clear – the blan­ket ban on pris­oner vot­ing is not com­pli­ant with the ECHR.

“Whether peo­ple agree with that or op­pose it, one thing ev­ery­one should agree on is that elec­tions must be com­pli­ant with the law. And, un­like the UK gov­ern­ment, who did not rec­tify this is­sue for more than a decade, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is legally obliged un­der the Scot­land Act to com­ply with the ECHR.

“The tim­ing of the by-elec­tion means ac­tion must be taken now, on a tem­po­rary ba­sis, to en­sure Scot­land does not breach the ECHR.

“The or­der will then be re­pealed prior to the full par­lia­men­tary de­bate on leg­is­la­tion to put in place a long-term so­lu­tion to the is­sue.”

He added: “The res­ig­na­tion of the sit­ting Shet­land MSP means that we have to move quickly to bring the re­sult­ing by-elec­tion into line with the law.

This is a prag­matic, short-term

so­lu­tion, and our in­ten­tion is that Bill cur­rently be­fore Parliament, if passed, will pro­vide the longer-term so­lu­tion.”

But the decision was slammed by the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives, who said it “opens the door” for in­mates to cast their bal­lot more widely in fu­ture.

The party’s equal­i­ties spokes­woman An­nie Wells said: “Al­though there will be lit­tle im­pact on this par­tic­u­lar elec­tion, this ill-judged move opens the door for pris­oner vot­ing more gen­er­ally.

“It sets the all-im­por­tant prece­dent, and means the SNP will be en­abling dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals to vote in fu­ture elec­tions.

“That’s not what the peo­ple of Scot­land want to see, and not what pris­on­ers de­serve.

“The fact this is be­ing done without any proper de­bate or con­sul­ta­tion is par­tic­u­larly un­ac­cept­able. Vic­tims of crime will be fu­ri­ous that peo­ple guilty of as­sault, domestic vi­o­lence and se­ri­ous drugs of­fences will be able to in­flu­ence our po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.”

The by-elec­tion has been trig­gered by the res­ig­na­tion of long-serv­ing Scot­tish Lib­eral Demo­crat MSP Tav­ish Scott, who is tak­ing up a new role with the Scot­tish Rugby Union.

His party’s jus­tice spokesper­son Liam Mcarthur said: “Lib­eral Democrats have been call­ing for changes to pris­oner vot­ing rules for years. The ex­ist­ing blan­ket ban on pris­oner votes flouts in­ter­na­tional law and im­pedes re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. We think it’s im­por­tant to build civic re­spon­si­bil­ity among the prison pop­u­la­tion. This is a fair and pro­gres­sive change.”

The seat was held at the last Holy­rood elec­tions by Mr Scott who won 67.4 per cent of the vote while the SNP won 23.1 per cent.

Ten can­di­dates are stand­ing with the Lib­eral Democrats rep­re­sented by Shet­land Is­lands Coun­cil de­pute con­vener Beatrice Wishart. Fel­low coun­cil­lor Jo­han Adam­son is Labour’s can­di­date while Bry­don Good­lad and Tom Wills are the re­spec­tive Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives and SNP can­di­dates.

Also stand­ing are Stuart Martin for Ukip; three in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates in Michael Stout, Peter Tait and Ryan Thom­son; and Ian Scott who has no party listed.

0 Tav­ish Scott’s res­ig­na­tion trig­gered the by-elec­tion

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