SCOTLAND’S worst prisoners should not get the right to vote, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Despite some of her SNP colleagues backing a universal franchise for those serving custodial sentences, the First Minister said she did not believe it would be right.

She told MSPs she opposed giving the vote to those in prison for “the most serious and heinous crimes”, and called for a “grown-up debate” on the issue, appearing to accept that some voters would get a vote in future.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has repeatedly ruled that the automatic, blanket ban on prisoner voting in the UK is disproportionate and a breach of human rights.

Earlier this week, Holyrood’s equalities committee recommended the “arbitrary” ban should end in Scotland, and that all inmates, regardless of their crime, should be enfranchised.

Prisoners should be given the right to vote, committee says

The recommendation was supported by the SNP, Labour and LibDem MSPs on the committee, with only the Tories opposed.

The committee said the change - made possible by the 2016 Scotland Act giving Holyrood the power to change its own elections - would help society, rehabilitation and democracy.

SNP convener Christina McKelvie said some cases would appear “distasteful, but we need to think about rehabilitation, and not further excluding and alienating people from society”.

However at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon made it clear she disagreed.

It followed Tory MSP Murdo Fraser quoting campaigner John Muir, whose son Damien was fatally stabbed in Greenock in 2007, saying votes for all prisoners would be an “obscenity”.

Ms Sturgeon said she was not criticising the Holyrood committee for its work on the “difficult and sensitive” issue, and the law would be made ECHR-compliant.

But she added: “It is my view that we should not give the vote to all prisoners.

“I'm certainly not persuaded of enfranchising prisoners who are in prison for the most serious and heinous crimes and are perhaps in prison for lengthy periods of time and I don't think that is required to comply with the ECHR.

“There is a proper, mature, grown-up debate that this parliament requires to have.”

Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill says change is 'overdue' as committee backs votes for prisoners

She said there would now be a consultation with stakeholders on the issue before a vote.

Ms Sturgeon added: “The Scottish Government will respond to the committee's report in due course.

“I am sure that all MSPs will be very mindful of the views of victims of crime.”

A two-thirds majority of all MSPs is needed to change the law on Holyrood’s election system.

Mr Fraser said the SNP was clearly split on the issue, with Ms Sturgeon’s own parliamentary aide, Caithness MSP Gail Ross, among the committee members backing votes for all.

He said: “The question the First Minister must now answer is which convicted criminals she would like to give the vote to. There is absolutely no public support for rapists and murderers being able to vote. The Scottish Conservatives... will continue to oppose prisoner voting.”

Green MSP John Finnie urged Ms Sturgeon to give all prisoners the vote.

He said: “The current ban neither protects public safety nor acts as an effective deterrent against crime. If the First Minister really sees Scotland as a progressive beacon, then I’d urge her to get behind the principle that the right to vote is not a reward that we give to some citizens, but a basic human right that we all inherit in a democracy.

“Prisoners can already vote in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Ireland and unless the First Minister changes her view on prisoner voting, that she doesn’t ‘support enfranchising all prisoners’, then Scotland will not be able to claim the status of being a progressive beacon.”

MasAskill admits SNP's "shameful" position on prisoner voting rights​

LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said the First Minister had to spell out exactly what change she had mind.  

He said: "The prisoner voting ban flouts international law and is neither fair nor progressive. No other developed European democracy does it.

"he Scottish Parliament has the power to deliver change and we know that to reduce reoffending more must be done to prepare offenders to rejoin our communities.

"An important part of that is ensuring they are more aware of their responsibilities as citizens, not alienating them altogether."

After the 2014 independence referendum, former SNP Justice Secretary Kenneth MacAskill admitted the SNP had opposed prisoner voting in case it generated “lurid headlines”.

This week he said enfranchising prisoners was now overdue.

Earlier, Ms McKelvie warned MSPs on her committee not to leak after the recommendations on prisoner voting appeared in the Daily Mail last week.

She expressed her “personal disappointment” and said a “short-lived political stunt” had undermined the committee’s reputation and trust among its members.

She also reminded the MSPs of the Holyrood Code of Conduct which states all committee reports should remain confidential until their formal publication.