AN EXPANSION of electronic tagging has been branded a “ruse to empty prisons” after it was voted through Holyrood.

MSPs backed the Scottish Government’s Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill by 82 votes to 26.

The legislation paves the way for the introduction of GPS tracking systems and high-tech devices which can monitor whether an offender has taken drugs or alcohol through their sweat.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf insisted: “This is not about hard or soft justice, but about smart justice.”

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But the Scottish Tories argued it will lead to more dangerous criminals walking free from court on community sentences.

Liam Kerr, the party’s shadow justice secretary, said: “It’s clear that the SNP is using this bill as a ruse to empty prisons.

“Instead of improving the rehabilitation system and properly resourcing jails, the nationalists would rather watch dangerous criminals walk free from court.

“We firmly oppose this bill because we are completely unsatisfied that risk assessments for electronic monitoring or response to breaches are robust enough for the victims of crime.

“It is completely unacceptable that cutting off a tag will not be deemed a criminal offence, something that will just embolden the most dangerous of individuals who already have contempt for the law.

“And it’s not just the SNP which is letting down victims of crime with this soft-touch approach. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens should have a long hard look at themselves for not standing up to this too.”

The legislation, which was first introduced to Holyrood in February last year, includes measures to help criminals reintegrate into society by reducing the length of time in which certain convictions must be disclosed to employers.

Meanwhile, GPS tagging will allow authorities to set up “exclusion zones”, barring offenders from certain areas – such as a victim’s home or workplace.

The changes come in the wake of the murder of father-of-three Craig McClelland, from Paisley, who was stabbed to death in July 2017 by James Wright.

Wright had breached his home detention curfew six months earlier, for which he was never apprehended.

Mr Yousaf said the shake-up will introduce a new offence of being unlawfully at large, with police handed greater powers to apprehend anyone who absconds.

And in a scathing attack on Tory MSPs, he accused them of “naked opportunism”, adding: “I have to say the opposition is as predictable as it is frankly tiresome.”

He insisted research and data clearly demonstrate progressive reforms “are going to reduce reoffending”.

Earlier, Scottish Tory efforts to make cutting off an electronic tag a criminal offence were rejected.

Mr Kerr also tried and failed to push through a raft of amendments which would have reintroduced the word “offender” into the legislation.

Scottish Labour previously insisted the word should be replaced with “relevant person” to reduce stigma.

Mr Yousaf said the legislation is part of a “suite of measures” to boost rehabilitation, with MSPs expected to vote today on controversial plans to create a presumption against prison sentences of less than 12 months.

READ MORE: Early release of criminals to be probed after tragic Craig McClelland murder case

It came as he warned football clubs and authorities are not doing enough to curb the problem behaviour of a minority of fans, with the situation at a “tipping point”.

In an interview with The Sun, he pressed for action after a spate of incidents last season which saw coins and flares thrown, spectators clashing with players on the pitch, and abusive songs sung from the terraces.

The Justice Secretary said one of the measures which has been floated is new licensing powers for councils to enforce the closure of grounds if clubs cannot control spectators.

Elsewhere, Mr Yousaf told Holyrood’s Justice Committee that members of the public are likely to struggle with the current process for making complaints against the police. He said: “We can definitely make it a less complex landscape than it currently is.”

He also said he understood concerns around police misconduct investigations being dropped when officers resign.