Public Law

In March this year, Charles blogged about the introduction to the Scottish Parliament of the ‘paving’ Bill to make provision on the franchise for next year’s independence referendum. Tuesday marked the first Parliamentary debate on the Franchise Bill.

The general principles of the Bill, which will enfranchise around 120,000 young people not otherwise entitled to vote, were approved by a vote of 97 to 12.

The issue that dominated the debate was the prohibition on prisoner voting. There were calls from the Lib Dems to extend the franchise to convicted prisoners serving short sentences. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon indicated that she was “not persuaded” by the arguments in favour of even limited prisoner voting rights, but did express a willingness to hear the arguments. The Lib Dems may try to amend the Bill to allow prisoner participation the next time the Bill is debated in the chamber.

The Scottish Government intends that the Bill should complete its parliamentary passage by the end of June this year and be in force later in the summer. This will allow the electoral registration officers across all local authority areas in Scotland to begin collecting data about prospective young voters as part of the annual household canvass starting in October. The Government is confident that its provisional timetable will be met, notwithstanding a potential challenge against the prisoner voting ban on human rights grounds.

The other referendum Bill currently going through the Parliament, which contains the substantive details on the referendum, is still being considered by the specially-established Bill Committee. The Committee’s report and the first full Parliamentary debate are expected this autumn.


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