Margo MacDonald: Convict vote is tough dilemma

The referendum could be considered a unique poll in which prisoners should be allowed their say. Picture: PA
The referendum could be considered a unique poll in which prisoners should be allowed their say. Picture: PA
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‘Lock em up and throw away the keys” . . . not a sentiment I’d experienced even when faced with proof of horrendous crimes.

Some, I agree, have taken me close to the edge, but I’ve usually succeeded in persuading myself that there may be a faint hope of redemption on the part of the 
offender.

I am aware that some people will consider this softy-sloppy wishing rather than analysing the true situation. As I represent a very wide spectrum of people I think it only reasonable that I should reflect on their opinions on how prisoners should be treated. The matter has been thrown into sharp relief by an order from the European Court of Human Rights that all systems of law in Europe should comply with its attitude to prisoners’ voting rights.

Until now, the British jurisdictions did not allow for any prisoner voting. However, as well as the European Court’s rule there are people who feel that the referendum on Scottish independence will bring about a result so profound as to completely change the society in which we live, and that prisoners presently behind bars will have to rejoin a community which will be markedly different from the one they left behind on the day of 
imprisonment.

But should we make exceptions as to which prisoners can vote and under what circumstances? I confess to being uneasy in this area since we could end up having to decide if someone with road traffic convictions had in fact committed a lesser or greater crime than someone else who beat up his partner. The courts are the proper place to decide such things because the judge hears all the evidence, and bases the sentence on that.

This dilemma is to be debated this week in the Scottish Parliament. At this early stage in the passage of the Bill I am prepared to leave open the door to possible amendments which would see some 
categories of prisoners able to vote in the referendum. It may be that voting in the expected general elections would be viewed differently from voting in the one-off 
referendum.

This is one a debate I shall listen to very carefully and only decide when I hear all the arguments which way my vote is going to go.

Obscene reward for great Scots

Like everybody else in Scotland, I was proud that Sir Alex Ferguson has been called the greatest football manager of all time.

I was even prouder that he would be succeeded by another fine-looking, healthy Scot . . .

and since his new club is unlikely to be in direct competition with my own team of choice, I can sincerely wish David Moyes a great start and a long reign at Manchester United.

But how I wish he had broken the circle of exclusive salary deals. In his case, £33 million for six years. Obscene.

What follows independence is sense of self

Tony Banks, one of the businessmen who’ve declared their hopes for Scotland, is a care home owner with country-wide interests. He’s bound to be acutely aware of the conditions and processes in the public services that may work in partnership with some of his establishments.

He sounds like a man who knows how many beans make five and, as a result, is backing Scottish independence. He’s done the right thing for the future generations of Scots for whom the referendum will be an entry in their history books that they’ll take as absolutely unexceptional and just another part of our history as Scots. But Mr Banks is closer to the history that surrounds us, and he is a little fearful that the Britishness he feels won’t survive a flourishing of Scottishness. He says that although he’ll vote for independence he’ll continue to feel partly British.

And this is where I agree with him. I think it almost certain that, because we’ll all continue to live in the British Isles, people thousands of miles from here and perhaps closer than that, will call us British just as the citizens of sovereign countries in the Caribbean are described as West Indians.

As for Scots like Mr Banks, happy to have a British layer to their identity, I imagine that they’ll work at keeping the ties that bind in good repair. These invisible bonds are the relationships between and among people, common interests in armed services organisations, and cross-border partnerships.

And, although a strand of comedy will remain an area of entertainment only properly understood by Scots, by and large because we can laugh together, although not at each other, we can live together. But as with everything in life, there’s a time for such expansiveness . . . probably after independence has been won.