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« Time for some academic transparency? | Main | Iain MacWhirter in finest form »

February 01, 2011


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@Douglasclark. The SNP government is against prisoners being given the vote, so I am at one with that. I also support the party's sensible criminal justice policies, such as community orders instead of short sentences - of which more later. In principle the court is a good thing. But some judgements give concern. Also the interpretation of the European act itself by our own courts can often seem bizarre eg last week's ruling that a child rapist at Carstairs had his human rights breached because he was denied Mars Bars....There is also a difficulty in Scotland's particular vulnerability as a jurisdiction, which I know concerns the government and merits more examination. I am an SNP candidate because I believe Scotland would be economically better off independent; I think the SNP puts the country first and has ambition for Scotland, its people and parliament; I also want to preserve our distinct culture and believe the SNP government has represented Scotland well - and taken the country to a new level of confidence. My views on criminal justice are fairly reflective of the general population - prison doesn't provide all the answers, especially for minor criminals. But I do not worry unduly about the rights of really nasty offenders who show no remorse. Frankly, I do worry about anyone who has read Andrew O'Hagen's article on Hirst and goes on to defend the guy.

Dear Joan,

Where do you stand on the European Court of Human Rights?

I am sort of in favour of it, yet a fellow Nationalist appears to be against it. I am not in favour of abrogating our commitment to it.

Are you?

I don't have a problem with this at all and assume the objectors are relying on a gut reaction rather than thinking it through. As an aside but still relevant.

Dear Joan

You are wrong.

Would you knock on someone’s door and ask them to vote SNP?

You would probably say yes.

Would you then ask them if they had ever been in prison?

You would probably say no.

Why doesn’t the SNP ask that question when canvassing?

“Hirst, a man whose 15-year sentence for manslaughter stretched to 25 years because of his behaviour inside prison”.

Bad people have rights too; they don’t stop when locked up.

You say:

“Hirst is a frightening fellow. He educated himself in prison, clearly has intellectual ability and also won prisoners the right to make phone calls. Yet he appears unable to put matters of injustice into a context that reasonable people would understand”.

Leaving aside Hirst, the ECHR is made of up what you would probably term “reasonable people” and they concluded that Hirst was right.

Just like the UK Supreme Court ruled that Peter Cadder was right and the Scottish Government was wrong in denying people the right to a lawyer before questioning.

And across Europe the same ruling has been adopted in other countries to give people a fair trial too.

Which they are legally entitled and morally entitled to by law!

“On the video he rejoices that all prisoners without exception will get the vote - including "paedophiles and murderers" and there is no point "moralising" by discriminating between them. He says the expenses scandal means politicians no longer have any moral authority to govern us. (is raping children really equivalent to claiming for a widescreen telelvsion?) Yet he believes that taking a human life should not bar him from choosing a government to rule over the law abiding. He argues vociferously for fair play in the democratic process. Yet he subverts that democracy - and the will of the electorate - by appealing to the unelected ECHR to traduce the will of parliament”.

You make several interesting statements here to justify your position.

“He says the expenses scandal means politicians no longer have any moral authority to govern us. (is raping children really equivalent to claiming for a widescreen telelvsion?).”

Firstly he has a point about politicians losing moral authority, they have; you could put a telephone book list depending on your terms of reference.

And I don’t think he thinks raping children is really equivalent to claiming for a widescreen television, he isn’t that far gone.

“Yet he believes that taking a human life should not bar him from choosing a government to rule over the law abiding.”

Don’t governments rule over everyone, law abiding or not?

“He argues vociferously for fair play in the democratic process”.

As someone who hopes to enter parliament I hope you would as well.

“Yet he subverts that democracy - and the will of the electorate - by appealing to the unelected ECHR to traduce the will of parliament”.

How is it subverting democracy to seek legal recourse?

You talk about the ‘unelected’; wouldn’t you as a possible list MSP be; ‘one of the unelected’?

You would be in Holyrood not by the ‘will of the people’ but by the votes of SNP members, a small section of the party, based on the geographic area they live in.

Despite what you may think, the unelected ECHR is a good thing and the importance of an independent judiciary is vital to society.

Do you believe in an independent judiciary?

Or is it you believe in an independent judiciary if you agree with their decisions, is that it?

That’s why we need an ‘unelected’ ECHR so they are uncontaminated by politicians.

“At the time of the ECHR judgment, 18 countries in Europe already allowed all prisoners the vote, 12 allowed some to vote and another 13 had a blanket ban like Britain”.

Unfortunately, we live in a less than enlightened country, its corrupt. People have to use the law to get their rights because the Scottish Government isn’t pro active in giving them it in the first place.


“Already there is considerable speculation, some of it jocular, as to how political activists might campaign in prisons next Spring”.

Is this any different in how political parties would target other minority groups, for example the Muslim Community?

“There could be hustings in prison, where candidates could answer questions about the quality of the rations”.

Or they could ask for help in trying to change their lifestyles which would benefit society.

“It would, of course, be a waste of time for the SNP, Labour and the Tories”.

I wouldn’t consider trying to invest in someone as a waste of time, there will be failures but there will also be successes.

And the point of politics from where I stand is trying to help all the people. After all you don’t hear the returning officer say that ‘so and so’ is elected to help only those bits of the community they like.

Finally on the subject of the ‘will of the people’, you will have noticed that constantly the will of the people is for bring back hanging.

Politicians always vote against this in a free vote.


Because sometimes the public isn’t right!

And neither is the Westminster or Scottish Governments on refusing to give prisoners the vote.

Voting lets prisoners know they are still part of society and should be part of the process of rehabilitation.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

Give them the postal vote, as we all know that's incorruptible...

I'm afraid I part company with you on this one, Joan. There's lots of crooks outside jails who get the vote. Put it this way - how is it right that Tommy Sheridan doesn't get the vote but Tony Blair does? Why should a murderer who is released on parole one day before an election get the vote, and a shoplifter who is released one day after doesn't? And, besides, quite a number of those inside almost certainly didn't do what they were banged up for...

I don't really see what difference it makes whether prisoners can vote. Nor do I see the relevance of the fact that Hirst is a bastard. And although I don't think it's an important issue either way, I do have a slight admiration for the LDs for pushing for such a clearly non-populist change.

"Yet he subverts that democracy - and the will of the electorate - by appealing to the unelected ECHR to traduce the will of parliament."

A novel argument there, Joan. A citizen using the courts to defend their rights is now anti-democratic? Are you sure you want to say this? Were the Countryside Alliance subverting democracy when they applied for a judicial review of the Act outlawing hunting with dogs in Scotland? No, of course they weren't. The rule of law empowers citizens to challenge legislation through the courts and is essential in a functioning democracy.

That solution had also occurred to me, Doug. Far too sensible and simple for politicians to consider though!

From what I gather, the situation that needs to be addressed is the fact that criminals are specifically singled out as being banned from voting, and that this is deemed to be discriminatory. Well, there is a difference between being allowed to vote, and being able to vote, so the solution is simple: lift the ban on prisoners voting, thus adhering to the ruling; but just don't provide any special provisions for voting in prisons.

I thought I had come up with an ingenious idea here, but it seems this is exactly how it works in other European countries like Ireland, Slovakia and Cyprus, where prisoners are allowed to vote, but they can only do so if they have access to a polling booth at the time, for example if on parole or day leave. This way, prisoners are not actively being prevented from voting, it just so happens they can't, because they're incarcerated. But there are all manner of things prisoners can't do due to their imprisonment, and surely the onus is on the prisoner not to be locked up in the first place, rather than on the state to provide the means for prisoners to vote?

You've got to draw a line somewhere when it comes to the human rights of prisoners, otherwise where does it stop? After all, surely imprisoning people is against human rights in the first place? I would hope that lifting the specific ban on prisoners voting - but not bothering to actively help the vote in prison - would be enough.

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