Foreign nationals legally resident in Scotland, and prisoners serving sentences of up to 12 months, should be allowed to vote in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections, a Holyrood committee has agreed.
In its stage 1 report on the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill, a majority of the Standards, Procedures & Public Appointments Committee agreed to the general principles of the Scottish Government measure. Conservatives Jamie Halcro Johnston and Tom Mason dissented.
The bill aims to increase political participation by extending the franchise for who can vote and the candidacy rights for who can stand in Scottish Parliament and local government elections. The extension of the franchise to certain prisoners follows the decision of the European Court of Human Rights which found that a blanket ban on prisoner voting was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
While welcoming the moves, the committee asks the Scottish Government also to do more to ensure that all of those eligible to vote are registered to do so. It also calls on the Government to consider whether the franchise should be extended to those seeking asylum in the country.
However by the same majority, and also supporting the Government's approach, The committee does not consider that British citizens who had previously been included on the register of local government electors and who now no longer live in Scotland should be given the right to vote in Scottish elections, on the basis that it does not believe that the case for allowing them the opportunity to influence the result of these elections "is strong enough".
Convener Bill Kidd MSP commented: "Voting is about so much more than choosing our politicians. It is about feeling empowered and a part of a community. Having the opportunity to influence law makers and decision takers is something that many of us take for granted and for the majority of the committee, the aim to extend this right to foreign nationals is warmly welcomed."
Deputy convener Mark Ruskell MSP added: "There is clearly strong feeling on the issue of prisoner voting and the committee heard considerable evidence supporting the case that all prisoners should have the right to vote. It is also important that Scotland complies with the European Convention on Human Rights.
"The majority of the committee agreed that the franchise in Scotland should be extended to those prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less. This can and should play an important part of the rehabilitation of offenders."