The Scottish Tories have been accused of a “naked political gesture” during a debate on prisoner voting.
The party called the debate on Wednesday to argue prisoners in Scotland should not be allowed to vote in the upcoming Holyrood elections.
Currently, those serving sentences of 12 months or less are able to choose their MSP, following a change in the franchise last year after the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act was passed by 92 votes to 27.
Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr described the practice as “morally repugnant” after detailing the offences of a number of prisoners in Scotland who would be able to vote, including those who committed assaults, sexual offences and one who was convicted of homicide.
“It is not right, it’s not fair, it is not just,” he said.
Mr Kerr said that if MSPs feel that prisoners should be able to cast ballots as a right, victims of crime will be asking where their rights were when the crimes took place.
“When I walk out the chamber after decision time tonight I will look victims and relatives in the eye and say that my Conservative colleagues and I voted to ensure no individual serving a prison sentence should be allowed to vote in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election,” he added.
Constitution Secretary Mike Russell, who tabled an amendment to the motion, said: “Again and again the Conservatives come to this chamber and denounce the choice of topic for a statement or debate.
“It’s ironic therefore that they’ve chosen to give up an hour of their debating time, virtually their last hour of debating time in this parliament, for what is a naked political gesture that is as cynical as it is hollow.”
He added: “This debate has nothing to do with justice or democracy or even fairness, it has to do with trying to shore up the core hard-right vote in Scotland.
“It is a sign of Conservative desperation.”
Mr Russell said the Tories knew they would not be able to repeal the Act with a “single sentence motion debated for an hour on a Wednesday, four weeks before dissolution”.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant described the debate as a “waste of all of our time” while Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur said the motion “had nothing to do with improving community safety, the lives of victims or even small matter of operating within the realms of what is actually legal”.
He added that the “sole purpose” of the debate was to “posture and grandstand ahead of an election with no hope, intention or expectation of delivering change”.
“This motion speaks to tired, old political logic that by blowing the dog whistle, making unsubstantiated claims based on fear not fact, votes will come running.”
Greens MSP John Finnie said that every prisoner who is eligible should be encouraged to vote in elections.
“We should be encouraging every jailed father to vote in a local authority election where the education of their child is an important issue,” he said.
“We should be encouraging every inmate with a history of addiction to vote when funding decisions about addictions services are a key issue.”
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