Lib Dem Vote Blunder Throws Tagging Plans Into Chaos

BUNGLING Lib Dem MSPs last night threw into chaos plans to allow serious offenders to be released early on tagging orders.

The government won a vote for short-term prisoners to be allowed out six months from the end of their sentence instead of the present four-and-a-half months.

They also wanted the scheme to cover serious and violent offenders approved for parole. But, in a shambolic vote, four Lib Dem MSPs voted the wrong way and two, including party leader Nicol Stephen, missed the vote completely.

Now experts are trying to work out if they can bring an order before parliament in time to meet the legislative deadline.

Last week, MSPs on the justice committee narrowly rejected the tagging plans.

The government were counting on the support of the Lib Dems but Ross Finnie, John Farquhar Munro, Jamie Stone and Alison McInnes voted the wrong way.

Leader Stephen and party colleague Iain Smith raced into the chamber just as Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson called “voting over”.

That meant the government lost by 62 votes to 58 with one abstention.

But all six silly Lib Dems then voted in the second motion to extend tagging to six months for prisoners serving less than four years – helping the government to win by 65 votes to 60.

Labour and the Tories opposed the move.

Earlier, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill told MSPs that the extension of home detention was necessary because prisons were holding record numbers of inmates.

He said: “There is a crisis in our prisons. We cannot have narrow, sectarian party politics played by the Tories, or indeed Labour, that jeopardise good order in our prisons.”

He said the system was now under “intolerable strain”.

The prison population yesterday was 8067, including 330 on home detention curfews – against a design capacity of just 6626.

The new measures are expected to free around 50 jail places.