SSPCA consultation: Scot Gov ‘ignores’ 7,014 signatures

sspca logoToday, the Scottish Government has published its analysis of the public responses to the SSPCA consultation. It is quite extraordinary.

As you’ll recall, the public consultation was established to seek views on whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers to enable them to tackle a wider suite of wildlife crimes than they currently undertake (for background see here).

The consultation closed on 1st Sept 2014. In October 2014, Scot Gov published copies of the responses (or at least those where the respondent had agreed to publication). A few days later, we blogged about our rudimentary analysis of those responses and exposed some pretty deep-seated hypocrisy amongst some of the respondents (see here).

Today’s publication from Scot Gov provides a far more comprehensive analysis of the responses, but doesn’t provide a decision one way or the other – that will come “in due course“.

The Government’s analysis is detailed and informative. It’s clear that they are taking this consultation seriously and are doing their best to be transparent about the process. That’s very welcome.

However, after scrutinising their analysis, we are concerned about the way some of the responses have been assessed.

According to the report, 242 responses were given to Question 1 of the consultation. That question was as follows:

Q1. Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to give the SSPCA the powers as set out in section 4.1 [of the consultation document]?

Apparently, only 32% of respondents said ‘Yes’; 67% said ‘No’.

Those figures indicate that over two-thirds of respondents did not support the proposed extension of powers for the SSPCA.

But wait a minute….. when you actually look at the detail of their analysis, that’s not the case at all, and in fact, those supporting the extension of powers for the SSPCA amount to 97% of respondents, not 32%. That’s quite a discrepancy! How can that be? Here’s how…

You may remember that during the consultation period, a petition was launched by a campaigner, asking the public to support an extension of powers for the SSPCA. We blogged about it here. The petition explicitly stated that by signing it, petitioners would be supporting an increase of powers for the SSPCA. Here are the actual words:

By signing, you agree that the laws in Scotland should be changed to give the SSPCA the powers set out in section 4.1 of the consultation document“.

In effect, this statement is asking petitioners to respond to Q1 of the consultation.

7,015 people signed this petition. In other words, 7,015 people supported giving the SSPCA increased powers.

What the Scottish Government has done, in its analysis, is to treat those 7,015 supportive signatures as ONE SINGLE RESPONSE. Effectively, 7,014 individual responses have been ignored.

Why have they done that? We don’t know. Their report acknowledges the petition, and the 7,015 signatures, and states that the petition has been treated as a single response, but gives no explanation why.

The report also reveals that at least 17 responses were believed to be part of, or prompted by, a ‘campaign’ by this blog. Those 17 responses do not appear to have been amalgamated into one.

Also, the report reveals that at least 70 responses were believed to be part of, or prompted by, a ‘campaign’ by the SGA. Those 70 responses do not appear to have been amalgamated into one.

So why were 7,015 petition responses, obviously part of a ‘campaign’, reduced to one single response, when responses from two other ‘campaigns’ were not?

Let’s assume those 7,015 responses had been treated as individual responses. That would put the number of respondents who answered Q1 at 7,256 respondents (not 242 as the Govt claims).

Of those 7,256 respondents, 7,093 of them said they supported increased powers for the SSPCA. That’s 97% of the total respondents, not 32%.

Of the 7,256 respondents, only 163 of them said they did not support increased powers for the SSPCA. That’s only 2% of all respondents, not 67%.

We’re pretty sure that those 7,014 individuals who signed the petition to support an increase of powers for the SSPCA will not be best pleased at being ignored.

Having said all that, we don’t think this consultation is a numbers game. And even if it was, the Govt has a bit of a track record of ignoring public opinion gleaned from consultations (e.g. see here).

We’re going to have to wait and see what Environment Minister Aileen McLeod decides “in due course” but hopefully she will pay attention to the significant public support for increased SSPCA powers, as demonstrated by those 7,015 people who signed a petition thinking that their opinion would count for something.

The Govt’s analysis of the consultation responses can be downloaded here:

Scot Gov analysis of SSPCA consultation responses Jan 2015


22 thoughts on “SSPCA consultation: Scot Gov ‘ignores’ 7,014 signatures”

  1. Hold your high horse … quoting directly from the document:

    “Those who were generally not in favour of the proposals outnumbered those in
    favour by just over 2 to 1. While the consultation exercise should not be thought of
    as a vote on the topic, the proportion of No responses demonstrates that significant
    concerns were held by a number of individuals and organisations about these
    proposals. However, it should also be recognised that one of the Yes responses was
    received in the form of a petition backed by 7,015 signatures, demonstrating a
    significant additional public support for the proposals.”

  2. Numbers please. I responded directly and said yes.
    I would have expected more than 32 direct responses from this blog alone.

  3. As the ‘lead petitioner’ I am extremely disappointed that they haven’t included our petition signees as individual respondants, as I fought hard at the time for everyone to be treated as such. In fact, I made a point of saying to Paul Wheelhouse (MSP at the time) that I wanted each and every voice to be counted, and that any additional comments made by petitioners should be taken into account also.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased that Scottish Govt have recognised the petition and that it has been referred to in their summary today, I’m just a bit upset they didn’t fulfil my promise to have everyones individual voice heard.

    As a side note, I fear that, as these statistics are skewed in favour of a ‘no’ response (because the petition wasn’t included), the shooting/land management fraternity will see this as a victory on their part and they will use this as ammunation to strengthen their cause.

    Fingers crossed that Scottish Government decides (and soon) in favour of granting the SSPCA’s extra powers.


    1. I agree it’s highly likely we’ll see the 67% vs 32% figure trotted out by the shooting lobby now whenever they possibly can, whatever way the consultation goes. We just have to hope that the government take the true weight of public opinion shown by your petition into account when a decision is finally made.

      I don’t believe the petition was a waste of time. If nothing else it’s helped raise awareness and add momentum to the rising campaign for justice in our countryside!

  4. I suggest contacting Aileen McLeod and pointing this out, let’s get this trending on Twitter. I certaintly have no problem signing another petition asking them to include those signatures, perhaps they were hoping no one would make sense of the figures.

  5. I agree with Julie. I sense a smell of rotten fish, and this will soon show us what Aileen McLeod is made of.

  6. It’s been a while since I looked at this in details, but IIRC the ‘rules’ state that they have to treat each physical response as one – otherwise do you treat a response on behalf of the RSPB as one on behalf of all its’ members.

    By acknowledging the petition, they are incorporating that fact.

    BTW, the comment about campaigns shows the danger of using the ‘set letter’ format. Views get taken jmore seriously if each individual response is different.

    1. Thanks, that’s v useful.

      So for future ref, we shouldn’t waste time organising a petition as a direct response to a public consultation. Far better to ask people to respond directly to the consultation [and in their own words].

      That’s not to say that this particular petition was a wasted effort though…the size of it will hopefully have some impact.

      1. If you want the ‘scores’ to reflect that. I have long been of the opinion that most consultations are paying lip service. A bit like ‘independent’ reports that reach exactly the conclusions the Govt want.

      2. I would say it is better to do all three. People who sign a petition won’t even click a set-letter, and many who will click on a set-letter won’t write a real one. Better to have a petition and set-letter, but also make clear that a real letter is much preferred, and that while a set-letter and petition still counts for something it won’t count as much as a genuine response.

    2. Been thinking about this.

      Can understand how a signature from an organisation is treated as one – because only one person has signed it ON BEHALF OF the org’s members. That’s fair enough.

      However, when someone signs a petition, they do so as an individual, and not on behalf of anyone else. So it doesn’t make sense that the signatories to a petition should all be treated as one single entry.

      Do you know where we might find a copy of the ‘rules’?


  7. The Welsh government has used the same approach to petitions to ignore majority public views. (Although if you sign a petition on the official government web site (UK or Wales) that is counted as 1 signature).

    But what would happen if instead of asking people to sign perhaps 30 to a form, the petitioners got each to sign on a separate page? I guess each page could be a small strip something like stopping after the place for the first name on a traditional petition. Then each ‘physical response’ could be delivered. We can imagine printing, perhaps 10 to an A4 with dotted lines to cut up…..

    Of course, it’s a logical idiocy but if these administrations want to play games on these consultations, we’ll have to play along.

    It would be wise to confirm that the above approach would get individual responses counted before trying it!

    1. That is exactly what we did Paul. Each of the 676 written petition signatures took the form of a small individual letter. The internet signatures were printed off as a very long list of names and comments. On this basis alone at the very least 676 of our petition should have been classed as individual respondants.
      I have written an email to the minister and the department civil servant dealing with the consultation asking for clarification on this matter. I will let you know what they say if I can.

  8. I will be interested to see how the Scottish Government view this. Their decision will show if they are really are serious about raptor persecution & are truly democratic. ( Increasing some of their decisions on wind farms would suggest they are not democratic & is very concerning !).

  9. For anyone interested, here is the reply from Scottish Parliament…
    ” I’m sorry you are disappointed in the way the petition was taken into account in the analysis report. This was done following internal Scottish Government consultation guidance which states:

    “You should consider the petition alongside the other responses to the consultation, remembering that the petition represents a strength of feeling on their statement alone. The petition should not be given any more weight than if it had been submitted as a direct response to the consultation, but it should be mentioned in particular in your analysis write-up.”

    In line with this guidance, we counted the petition as a single response to the consultation for the purposes of the analysis. However, the strength of views provided by the petition were acknowledged in more detail wherever possible, including:

    Section 4.3 which included the text of the petition itself, the background and the number of signatures. Section 5.1 which noted that although the direct responses to the consultation were 2 to 1 against the proposals, the Yes responses included this petition which was signed by 7,015 people, demonstrating additional public support. Tables 5a and 5c which included footnotes next to the relevant summary points, explaining that the point was additionally backed by the 7,015 signatures.

    Having reviewed the document though, I note that these footnotes should have also been included next to the relevant (more detailed) points in Tables 6a and 6c and will arrange for this to be amended as soon as possible.

    The main purpose of the analysis report is to show that all views submitted through the consultation have been recorded, which I believe it does. However, I would like to reassure you that Scottish Ministers are fully aware of the petition, and this will be taken into account alongside the consultation results when a decision is reached about the proposals.”

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