Harvie urges Equalities Committee to back an end to the ban on prisoners voting

Patrick Harvie MSP, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, today (7 Sep) urged Holyrood's Equalities Committee to back an end to the ban on prisoners voting, as the current blanket prohibition breaches human rights law and fails to support rehabilitation.

In 2013, Mr Harvie attempted to amend the franchise for the independence referendum, offering options including extending the vote to prisoners serving sentences of less than six months and to offenders who had less than six months of their sentence left to serve at the time of the vote. MSPs from the SNP, Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats voted against his amendments.

Since then, the Scottish Parliament has gained full control over elections to Holyrood, and the legal requirement for a change is more absolute for these elections than for referendums.

Patrick Harvie MSP said:

"Having temporary control over the franchise for the 2014 referendum forced Holyrood to consider an issue which had previously only been debated at Westminster. Now that we have full responsibility for elections in Scotland, we are faced with an absolute requirement to revisit the issue.

"The UK Tory Government may want to scrap the Human Rights Act, but the SNP have supported it, as do the Greens. It is therefore a point of principle that Holyrood must change the law to comply with human rights. The blanket ban must therefore be ended. Stopping all prisoners voting, regardless of the nature of their offence or the length of their sentence, clearly breaches human rights, and the current position cannot hold.

“Prisoners, especially those due for release, should be faced with their responsibilities as members of the society to which they will return. While voting is only one aspect of that, it is an important and symbolic one. Giving prisoners the right to vote would also give politicians an incentive to take the state of our prisons seriously, and invest in the rehabilitation services which will make all our communities safer. 

"If we want Scotland to become a beacon for fairness, and if we believe in rehabilitating offenders, we must look at all the options, have the debate, and end the ban." 


Papers for today's Equalities Committee meeting