On prisoner voting, the UK government is less progressive than most other European countries. Scotland aspires to be a ‘beacon of progressive opinion’, but its government not only acquiesces in the UK position, it has also declined to take the step – permitted it by the UK government – of enfranchising prisoners for the Independence referendum. Judicially challenged on this by three Scottish prisoners in December 2013, the reviewing judge denied their petition, but arguably left a question open.
Lord Glennie found that European rulings enfranchising prisoners for political elections do not apply to referenda because ‘a referendum is typically a one-off event dealing with a single issue’, and ‘[n]or has it anything to do with the choice of the legislature’. A referendum is a less important feature of a democracy than are elections.
What I suggest in my latest blog, though, is that a referendum to decide whether a nation should become an independent state is actually more momentous than a routine political election and (potentially) foundational for (the prospective new) democracy. The decision can hardly be reduced to a ‘single issue’, and as for choosing a legislature, a decision on Independence potentially affects all such future choices in a structurally profound manner.
So where might a fuller consideration of the social and ethical merits of the case lead us? This is not just an inherently interesting question, it may yet prove to be a live one if the petitioning prisoners decide to appeal ahead of the referendum…