Gil Paterson MSP, Barlinnie Prison, which houses criminals on short sentences, and Jackie Baillie, MSP. Pictures by Bill Heaney
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire’s two MSPs, have come out in favour of extending the right to vote to people who were formerly excluded including prisoners serving jail sentences of less than 12 months.
Labour’s Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton and Lomond, and Gil Paterson, who represents Clydebank for the SNP, were amongst the 63 members of the Scottish Parliament who voted to agree to the general principles of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill.
Only 18 members voted against the Bill.
Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP) told parliament the outcome would “result in the introduction of sensible modifications to the existing UK legislation as it applies to Scotland.
“The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill is a worthy piece of legislation that demonstrates how, as a result of devolution, Scotland can take a different approach to major franchise issues from the remainder of the UK.
“In my view, Scottish Parliament elections and local government elections will be much more inclusive and will better reflect Scottish society’s desire to be fair and to not exclude anyone living in Scotland from the voting process for no good reason.
“I am particularly interested in the provisions on voting by qualifying foreign nationals. I have always believed that everyone who lives legally in Scotland should have the same voting rights and that we should not discriminate against anyone on the basis of the land of their birth.
“Most in Scotland agree that, with an ageing population, Scotland requires foreign nationals—or, as I prefer to say, new Scots—to help to grow and sustain our economy.
“We want to encourage them to stay, integrate into our society and belong in Scotland.
“Part of that belonging is equal rights, and an important part of equal rights is voting rights. I am therefore very supportive of the bill and am convinced that it will encourage many of the young people and families who are currently living in Scotland to stay.”
Mr Paterson the provisions on prisoner voting rights, “are just about correct”.
He added: “Once again, we will demonstrate our difference from the rest of the UK, which breached the European convention on human rights by providing a blanket ban on prisoner voting rights.
“That ban was ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights and that unacceptable position will be put right in Scotland by the bill.”
And later he attacked the Conservatives, who were opposed to the move.
He said: “It is a cop-out not to abide by the spirit of what was determined by the European Court of Human Rights. Sometimes, when I listen to Tory politicians, I wonder whether they have had a humanity bypass. We should be looking at prisoner voting rights even if there was no rehabilitation benefit—that is just how we should treat people.
“Providing voting rights for prisoners who are serving sentences of no more than 12 months seems to be sensible, particularly when, as a society, we want our penal system to have rehabilitation at its core. In addition, most prisoners with short sentences are in prison because of fairly low-level crimes, and extending the franchise to them will have the effect of including them in mainstream society. That will, I hope, reduce the chances of them reoffending and will reduce our prison population.
“I have to admit that I have changed my views over the past four years. Having said that, in my opinion, those who have been convicted of more serious crimes, particularly those of a sexual nature, violent crimes and crimes that harm people, have forfeited their right to vote.”