Friday, June 07, 2013

Liberal Democrat McInnes' loses bid to secure prisoners a vote in the independence referendum

Scotland's referendum on independence next year is, we hope, a once in a lifetime event. If Scotland votes for independence, there is no going back. It's a huge decision.

We know from Alex Salmond's tussle with some UK Supreme Court judges a couple of years ago that the SNP don't care much for human rights of prisoners. Rather than being mortified at being found in breach, they decided to pick a fight with London because that's what they do.

To a liberal mind, prison is about rehabilitation, about getting the inmates' life in order, adding to their skills so that they can go out and contribute to society. Our justice system falls way short of that. So those in prison don't always get the support they need during and after their sentences.  So it's not surprising that so many of them end up back in and out of the place.

SNP, Labour and Conservative MSPs today ganged up to stop the Parliamentary Committee discussing the Referendum Franchise Bill from suggesting an amendment which would have given prisoners serving short sentences the right to vote. She had earlier explained why she wanted the measure so much:

The independence referendum is unlike any democratic decision Scotland has had to make before. Where a general election dictates a country’s direction for the next four years, this decision could steer Scotland’s path for the next three hundred years. 
It seems disproportionate to deny someone serving a short sentence a say in the future of their country. It seems nonsensical and arbitrary that someone sentenced in the summer will be shut out of this decision whilst someone caught in the spring will be allowed to vote.

Crimes must be punished. Our justice system must be seen to be effective and be effective. But if we want a prison system which rehabilitates offenders and helps them to become responsible citizens, it seems cruelly unforgiving to shut short term offenders out of a decision which could have repercussions on their life long after release.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will be putting these amendments before the Referendum Bill Committee with the hope of encouraging sensible debate from members. The UK is already out of step with the rest of Western Europe on this issue. On the biggest decision we will take in 300 years Scottish Liberal Democrats are clear that this is a reasonable, responsible and proportionate step to take.
After the vote, where she was backed by the Greens, she said she would try again to get the amendment through at Stage 3.

It's just a shame that the other parties can't see that to deny offenders on short sentences a say in the future of our country is unfair. If Scotland votes for independence that would affect not only the prisoner, but every generation of his or her family to come.

It may not be fashionable to stand up for the rights of prisoners, but it's the right thing to do and I'm very proud of Alison for so doing. Mind you, when she's up against a government who didn't care when the Prisons Inspector gave them a right rollocking over its neglect of women prisoners, she was always unlikely to win this one.

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