True to their manifesto pledge, the SNP have steered through legislation that would grant voting rights to prisoners in Scottish prisons.
This is a mistake.
In a liberal society the imprisonment of heretofore free citizens serves three purposes. The first is eminently practical; to remove dangerous individuals from the population and thus prevent them from being able to continue to harm or steal. The second purpose is rehabilitation; affording society a controlled and structured environment to enable and foster a program of education, therapy, and training to facilitate a reintroduction to society in a manner that benefits both the community and individual. The final purpose is that of deterrence and punishment; the individual is denied certain freedoms and privileges enjoyed by law abiding citizens. When they are released these rights are restored, and are probably valued a little more dearly.
By granting voting rights to prisoners, the SNP are undermining the third pillar of that trinity and in so doing are opening the door for doubt to be cast on the others.
When an individual breaks the law they have chosen to reject our rule-based system of existence and governance; a finely balanced system that strives to find the middle ground between tyranny and anarchy. Rejecting that system rightfully comes at the cost of rescinding your right to say in how that system runs.
This concept runs deep not just in our society but in our species. When a child acts violently and disruptively during play they are taken out of the group and have access to their toys revoked. When a lawyer engages in malpractice they are disbarred, having rejected the rule-based system of legal practice they a denied participation in it. When a country invades a neighbour they have sanctions imposed on them, for having violated international law they are denied access to the boons of international cooperation, such as trade and travel.
Allowing prisoners to vote is rewarding the naughty child. It’s allowing the crooked lawyer to get away with it. It’s encouraging the worst impulses of tyrants.
Voting is a sacred act. Simultaneously a solemn duty and incredible reward. Allowing prisoners to vote belittles it, cheapens it, sullies it. Politicians lament that respect for their profession have seldom been lower. Perhaps if Scottish lawmakers paid due deference to the act of choosing those lawmakers we could look at restoring that faith.
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