Scottish voters going to polling stations today are being asked to remember those of their fellow citizens who have been denied any say in the future of their country.

John Scott QC, Convener of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland, said:

“It is a source of huge regret to Howard League Scotland that the Scottish Parliament rejected all bids to allow prisoners serving a sentence to have a voice in today’s historic vote. The decision to follow the UK’s complete ban on voting by convicted prisoners was a missed opportunity and leaves Scotland firmly outside the European democratic mainstream.

“It means that every single one of over 6,000 people in Scottish prisons today, including all those whose sentence disqualifies them from voting for no more than a matter of weeks or months, will have been deprived of any say at all in the permanent future of their nation. That diminishes such a significant moment in the history of Scotland.”

The Howard League Scotland has welcomed the steps taken by the Scottish Prison Service to ensure that those prisoners not sentenced for a criminal offence, mainly those held on remand, and those due for release in time for today, are able to exercise their vote.

Notes to editors:
1. The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013, passed by the Scottish Parliament in June 2013, imposed a blanket ban on convicted prisoners voting in the referendum, copying the rules which apply for UK elections. The Scottish Parliament had been given fully devolved powers to set the franchise for the referendum under the Edinburgh Agreement and was free to depart from UK precedent, as it did to introduce voting for 16 and 17 year olds in the same Act.

2. Amendments put down by Patrick Harvie MSP (Green) and Alison McInnes MSP (Liberal Democrat) in the Scottish Parliament sought to extend the franchise to certain prisoners serving short sentences. These were rejected by the Scottish Government with the support of the Conservative and Labour Parties.

3. Howard League Scotland campaigned against applying a blanket ban, with support from the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Prison Reform Trust, SACRO, Professor Fergus McNeill, Professor Mike Nellis, Professor Alec Spencer, former Chief Inspector of Prisons Andrew McLellan and others.

4. Of the 47 Council of Europe countries, the only countries which retain a blanket ban on voting by all convicted prisoners, apart from the UK, are: Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Lichtenstein, Russia and San Marino (House of Commons Library, August 2014).

5. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has determined that a blanket ban on prisoner voting contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The UK Parliament is currently considering how to respond to the ECtHR ruling. A joint committee of the Houses of Commons and Lords reported in December 2013, recommending that prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months should be allowed to vote. The UK Government has yet to respond.

6. Court cases seeking to apply the ECtHR ruling to referendums have so far been unsuccessful.

7. On 29 August 2014, there were 7,844 prisoners in Scottish prisons, of which 6,247 are unable to vote. Of the remainder, almost all are on remand and therefore able to vote.

8. The Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland (known as ‘Howard League Scotland’) campaigns for just responses to the causes and consequences of crime.

Category Penal Policy