Equality and human rights committee back prisoners voting

Holyrood’s equality and human rights committee has backed allowing prisoners the right to vote in Hollyrood and local elections in Scotland.

This would be in line with the ruling brought in the European Court of Human Rights, which first sued the UK government over the blanket ban 13 years ago. Last year, the government agreed a limited compromise to allow some prisoners the right to vote, which was accepted by the Council of Europe. But the Holyrood Committee’s verdict would go much further, and extend this right to all prisoners.

The committee discussed the idea in depth, including media representation of the issue. The report stated: “We are aware allowing prisoners the vote is one of the most emotive subjects in the UK and one which exerts significant pressure on politicians generally.” But there was also the suggestion that the emotive language in the press might not be reflective of any great public feeling, and that in fact most of the public are basically indifferent, as was the case in Canada and the Republic of Ireland.

An agreement from the committee is one issue, whether the reform would pass is another matter. The Scotland bill granted Holyrood the right to extend the franchise for local and Scottish parliament elections, but it can only do so on the basis of  a supermajority, or two thirds of MSPs. Given the two Conservative MSPs on the committee dissented from the verdict, it is difficult to know whether this will be achieved.

The Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens are all in favour. The Scottish Labour Party has no position on the issue, with a spokesperson saying: “It has not been discussed since 2014, and there are no plans to do so at the moment.”

Time will tell if Scotland will break the trend.

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