Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jail boss backs Scotland’s Nelson Mandela, Tommy Sheridan get the right to vote, ‘political prisoner’ can start canvassing and doing leaflet runs?

Dear All

The Governor of Scotland’s largest prison which is currently holding Scotland’s Nelson Mandela, Tommy Sheridan has declared it inevitable that prisoners will get the vote.

This is despite overwhelming opposition from MPs who are sticking to the old tired and dead Labour mantra of ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ approach.

MPs need to realise that was just a slogan not a policy.

Derek McGill is the new head of HMP Barlinnie.

He says that politicians should accept a European ruling to grant voting rights to prisoners and start thinking instead about which ones to exclude.

He is of course right.

It is not when or if but who the debate should centre on.

He also makes an interesting point that the vast majority of prisoners are unlikely to use their postal votes.

There is no evidence to support this statement as they make use a ‘block vote.’

Regarding which constituency they vote for, that has to be a matter of personal choice decided by the prisoner and not the state.

Otherwise this breaches the right to take part in a free and fair election.

McGill added:

“it’s not going to cause politicians a great deal of angst”.

And I can’t see mainstream parties trying for the ‘prison vote’ unless minor parties such as SSP and Solidarity do it.

McGill has spoken out as EU legal leaders hit back at MPs’ rejection of the European Court of Human Rights, which has demanded that the UK enfranchise its convicts.

The Commons vote on Thursday night lead by Labour MP Jack Straw and Tory MP David Davis voted down the measure by 234 to just 22.

Quite a lot of people abstained on the free vote including Government Ministers and Labour’s front bench.

McGill said:

“It’s a political move, obviously it is, but the question is if they have the right to vote we’d need to determine at what level of sentence it would be deemed appropriate. Is it appropriate for really long-term prisoners, people who have committed heinous offences, to have the right to vote?”

I think that nature of the crime cannot determine whether the right to vote can be exercised but rather do they fall within a certain date of release.
And that does mean that the worst of the worst will be eligible.

McGill further said:

“Politicians will have to decide if that’s not the case, but in terms of short sentences, people on remand, they’re going to be back in the community next month anyway, so they might just be unlucky and miss the vote. Or, if the election’s in May and you’re out in April you’re going to get to vote anyway, so why would you deny someone that right?”

McGill dismissed the idea that voting rights would draw prisoners into responsible society.


“I don’t know if it would teach them anything at all. If you were to go back and ask what percentage of prisoners actually voted in the last 10 years it would be extremely low. If we were to give people what would in effect be a postal vote, the same as people working away or in the services, would they fill it in? Some would, but I suspect that most wouldn’t. So it’s not going to cause politicians a great deal of angst.”

The reason is because these people don’t feel part of society and no attempt is made to try and get them to reengage.

When people have no future, there is no tomorrow.

Yesterday, the Council of Europe which enforces ECHR laws warned the Coalition Government that it must “honour its international obligations” regardless of MPs’ personally feelings.

And Cameron will do so; it looks bad in front of other European leaders if he doesn’t.

Christos Pourgourides, a senior member of the council’s parliamentary committee, said the Commons vote would change nothing.

He told EU members:

“I am deeply disappointed by [the Commons] vote, in defiance of the ruling by the ECHR on prisoner voting. I had hoped the parliament of one of Europe’s oldest democracies – regarded as playing a leading role in protecting human rights would have encouraged the UK to honour its international obligations, as our assembly urged last month. Every member state must implement the judgments of the court.”

He added:

“The UK Government has said that it intends to implement this judgment, and I encourage it to find a way to do so that is consistent with its international legal obligations. There are different ways this can be done, as shown by the range of positions on this issue in Council of Europe member states.”

So, the Commons vote was a show, ‘fake’ outrage politicians taking stage to vent Victorian values.

There needs to a debate on prison reform, the vote is a step in the right direction but it is the ‘peas’, the real issues ala ‘steak’ needs to be cut into.

Who we are sending to prison and why is much more important.

Westminster and Holyrood will fall into line because at the end of the day, they will cite treaty obligations.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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