Prisoner voting and the independence referendum

Prisoner voting and the independence referendum

Prisoner voting and the independence referendum

From mid March until the end of June, we led a campaign to highlight the issue of voting rights for convicted prisoners in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum. On 11 March, the Scottish Government introduced legislation setting out the franchise for the referendum. The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill sought to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds, as well as ban all convicted prisoners from voting. Our campaign was supported by a wide range of individuals and organisations including the Prison Reform Trust, Sacro, Positive Prison? Positive Futures and Professors Fergus McNeill and Mike Nellis. We made the case for allowing at least some convicted prisoners to vote, highlighting how unusual the UK’s blanket ban is in a European context. Of the 47 Council of Europe nations, only four other major European countries ban all convicted prisoners from voting: Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Russia. We were disappointed that the vast majority of MSPs voted to extend a blanket ban on voting by convicted prisoners in the independence referendum. A review of our campaign can be found here.

Over the past six months, a joint committee of the UK Parliament has been considering Ministry of Justice draft legislation on prisoner voting rights. The Committee issued its report on 18 December, recommending that convicted prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months should be given the right to vote, and that prisoners should be entitled to apply, up to 6 months before their scheduled release date, to be registered to vote in the constituency into which they are due to be released. The full report can be read here. The Committee also recommended that legislation should be introduced at the start of the UK Parliament’s 2014/15 session. However, the Scottish Parliament’s Franchise Act ensures that, even if there is legislative change at Westminster between now and the independence referendum, convicted prisoners in Scotland will still not be able to vote in the independence referendum.