Howard League Scotland Calls On MSPs To Let Short Term Prisoners Vote In The Independence Referendum

Howard League Scotland Calls On MSPs To Let Short Term Prisoners Vote In The Independence Referendum

The Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland is calling for MSPs to allow prisoners serving short term sentences to vote in next year’s independence referendum.

The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill will reach the final stage of its passage through the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 27 June. Howard League Scotland is highlighting that this will be the last chance for the Scottish Parliament to reject a blanket ban on all convicted prisoners voting on 18 September 2014.

Drawing attention to new research published last week, Howard League Scotland Chair John Scott QC said:
“Scotland looks increasingly isolated in seeking to enforce a blanket ban on prisoner voting. We previously said there were eight other countries in Europe (out of a total of 47) that deny all convicted prisoners the right to vote. We were wrong – it is now clear there are only four, all of which are former communist dictatorships.

“Many of those serving a sentence in Scotland’s prisons are drawn from our most deprived and disadvantaged communities. Denying all of them without exception the right to a say in the future of the country they live in is to send them the message that they are not part of Scottish society. This is no way to encourage offenders to recognise their responsibilities as citizens.

“As the Bill stands, whether you are in prison for a matter of days or weeks, or for several years, you will not have the right to vote in the referendum.”

Noting the range of voices at Holyrood and now also at Westminster raised in opposition to the blanket ban, including senior past and present criminal justice professionals, charities working with offenders and ex-offenders, religious organisations, social justice campaigners and human and civil rights groups, Mr Scott added:

“The speed with which this issue has come up in the Scottish Parliament means the political parties in Scotland have not had the chance for a full internal debate on prisoner voting and the issue was not, understandably, included in any of the 2011 party manifestos. We therefore hope that, as at Westminster, party leaders will now consider allowing their members a free vote on this issue, given the significant challenges to equity and social justice raised by applying a blanket ban on voting by all convicted prisoners at the referendum on Scottish independence".