Grouse shooting featured at political hustings on animal welfare in Scotland

Last Thursday (15th April 2021), Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind hosted a political hustings to allow the public to quiz candidates from the five main political parties on their animal welfare policies ahead of the election on 6th May.

The hustings was organised by More for Scotland’s Animals (MFSA), a coalition of 11 leading animal welfare organisations (see here).

The MSP candidates were:

  • Maurice Golden (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)
  • Alison Johnstone (Scottish Green Party)
  • Ben Macpherson (SNP)
  • Molly Nolan (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
  • Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour)

I watched this hustings event and it was incredibly popular, with over 60 questions put forward for the candidates on a range of issues such as snaring, grouse shooting, fox hunting and greyhound racing but there simply wasn’t enough time for all the questions to be asked and answered.

I understand that OneKind is currently seeking permissions for a recording of the event to be posted online but in the meantime, journalist Mark Smith wrote an opinion piece for The Herald yesterday, focusing largely on the issue of grouse shooting. Mark’s opinions are his, of course, but where he reports on who said what, I think it’s an accurate account.

It is reproduced below:

IF you haven’t yet decided who to vote for, perhaps I can be of some assistance. Late last week, I put the same single question to five different politicians, one from each of the five main parties, and maybe their answers can tell us a little bit about the problems of modern Scottish politics. You can see familiar patterns at play in what they say – some new, some extremely old – and for voters trying to make up their minds, it’s very frustrating indeed.

What happened was that the charity OneKind asked the politicians along to an online hustings event to discuss the main issues around animal welfare and I took the opportunity to ask them about an issue I’ve written about many times: grouse shooting. My question was: do the candidates think there is a place for driven grouse shooting in Scotland or should it be banned? I was curious to see how far the parties would be willing to go.

Their answers were interesting, and in some cases passionate, but they also revealed something of the dilemmas that Scottish voters face, not only if they care about animal welfare but also if they care about the constitution. What if you’re a Scot who wants reform on animal welfare and other important issues – drugs, criminal justice, schools – but you’re also worried that voting for the SNP and the Greens (who have some good policies on these issues) could break up the UK? And what on earth are you to do if you’re concerned about independence but also not inclined to support the Conservatives? It’s not easy.

Alison Johnstone, the Green MSP, is a good example. She is a superb campaigner on animal welfare – informed, passionate, and committed – and her answers on driven grouse shooting were impressive. Her party, she said, want a complete ban on the practice, not only because there’s no justification for animals being killed for pleasure, but also because driven grouse shooting is an unproductive and inefficient way to use land. “We also see stink pits, snares and poor practice on every level,” she said. “I cannot wait to ban it.”

I have to say: I agree with every word Ms Johnstone says, having spoken to lots of people on every side of the argument over the years – gamekeepers, campaigners, police, lawyers, etc – and in any normal situation, she’d have my vote. The problem is that, for many people, the Greens’ policies – and there’s a lot to like in their manifesto – are tainted by the party’s stance on the constitution, meaning I could vote for animal welfare and end up with independence. Are there any unionists in the Scottish Greens, I wonder? And if so, how do they feel? If you’re out there, email me.

The other problem, obviously, is that the Greens are in bed with the SNP – all tucked up, nice ’n’ cosy – and this makes me doubt that anything significant will be done on animal welfare. The SNP representative at the hustings was the MSP Ben Macpherson who seems like a nice enough guy, but he’s saddled with defending what his party hasn’t done. In many ways, the SNP behave like a party in opposition, but Mr Macpherson also has to deal with the age-old problem of ruling parties during elections. They need to promise things are going to change (but not promise too hard in case they actually have to do it) but they also need to explain why they haven’t changed things already.

In the case of Mr Macpherson, this led to a lot of wibbly-wobbly government speak. On fox hunting, for example, the SNP “remain committed to closing the loopholes”. On cruelty to greyhounds, “we need to look at it very seriously”. On snares, “we accept the need for greater regulation”. And, sadly, there was the same lack of urgency on driven grouse shooting; Mr Macpherson said his party “remain committed” to bringing in a licensing system.

In any normal world, the SNP would be punished for all of this, for its lack of progress on important issues people care about – but Scottish politics is not a normal world. Alison Johnstone belongs to a party that has genuinely radical and transformative polices and Ben Macpherson belongs to a party that’s pretty much shagged-out on policy after 14 years in power, and yet neither party will be judged on any of that. They are the parties of Scottish independence and it means their promises on policy, and their delivery on those promises, doesn’t matter very much. How on earth did we get here?

The primacy of independence has also meant the banishment of the Lib-Dems and Labour to the outer reaches of Scottish politics, which is a pity. The Lib-Dems were represented at the hustings by Molly Nolan, the party’s candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and she had some sensible stuff to say about how animal welfare can be improved, such as giving wildlife police officers the resources they need. She also pointed out that any licensing system for driven grouse shooting needs to be robust; there’s no point in introducing licences and then carrying on as normal.

But by far the most impressive performer was Labour’s Colin Smyth whose concern for animal welfare clearly comes from a genuine place. The legislation on fox hunting, he said, was “unfinished business” and, as for driven grouse shooting, he said the current situation was unsustainable and a licensing system was not good enough. I don’t know much about Mr Smyth – and it’s obviously easier to promise things when you’re a long way off from having to deliver them – but listening to his old-school campaigning politics, passionately delivered, was refreshing and pretty inspiring I have to say.

I wish I could say the same for the Tories. Their representative, the MSP Maurice Golden, said he wanted new legislation on pets, but he also said snares were “necessary land-management tools”. He said the laws on fox hunting don’t need changing. And as for my question about driven grouse moors, Mr Golden said the industry improves bio-diversity and is a “fulcrum for jobs”. His answers were deeply disappointing.

But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this: Tories defending vested interests and governments defending a lack of action. What makes it different, though, is that many Scottish voters will be guided by other factors. Some people who care about animal welfare will vote Tory and some people who think the nationalists have done poorly in government will vote SNP. That’s where we are now. It’s disappointing. It’s distorting. And it’s exhausting. One day, maybe, politics in Scotland will go back to normal.


UPDATE 24th April 2021: Political hustings on animal welfare in Scotland now available to view (here)

18 thoughts on “Grouse shooting featured at political hustings on animal welfare in Scotland”

  1. Any Party EXCEPT the two main contenders then. This simply illustrates the powerful hegemonic grip that that a few wealthy people have on our country — not only financially but the power that private education displays when it comes to obtaining key positions on any Committees in Government Advisory roles and by dangling investment decisions to the right people.
    The split between the Parties is not really about differing politics but how close one is to the real power which lies in Land Ownership and Finance i.e. power. thus exposing the western democratic politrical system for the sham it is.

  2. not intending to be particularly pedantic, but if you like green policies, (and I do,) but, as you say, you are concerned about independence, (which I support) then vote green. If there’s a majority in favour of a referendum, then vote No. It’s democracy, and not voting green because of their position on an independence referendum is not logical.

    1. Not voting green because of their position on a referendum is logical. The last thing Scotland needs when trying to recover from the damage caused by lockdown is another referendum. The government needs to concentrate on many issues other than independence. We were told in 2014 that it was a once in a generation vote, the people said no to independence and the will of the people needs to be respected. If we have a second referendum so soon after the first and the no campaign wins by a narrow margin what’s to stop the SNP calling for a third, then a fourth, vote until they get their way. I’m pro Union, but also a democrat who believes that democracy includes the right to change your mind, but there has to be a balance between change and stability (which is why we don’t have elections every year) When the consequences of independence are much more far reaching than the outcome of an election then the period between votes needs to be much longer. In my opinion the U.K. government should change the law to guarantee Scotland (plus Wales and N Ireland) the right to hold a referendum whenever they want provided it’s at least 20 years since the previous one.

      1. Sorry Matt but there’s a typo in your second sentence. I think you meant to say:

        The last thing England needs when trying to recover from the damage caused by lockdown is another referendum.

        Scotland, through energy, food and other resources contributes £200 Billion to the UK economy. It’s a shame that England does not have enough self-respect to stand on it’s own two feet and try and survive survive without us.

      2. As for the “once in a generation” line, it formed no part of the Edinburgh Agreement, so it’s not an argument any sensible person should rely on. Furthermore, the Smith Commission report, which was agreed by all political parties in the Scottish Parliament, stated that “nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose”.

        In addition to that, the Good Friday Agreement, stated that referenda could be held after 7 years.

        Despite claiming to be a democrat, it certainly appears as though you want to rip up agreements just to save the union, and have a UK government that the people of Scotland never voted for, dictate the terms of their future. That doesn’t sound very democratic to me.

      3. Actually no, you are not a ‘democrat’ and the UK is not a democracy. That’s the whole point, and a country like the UK with no constitution, which is still governed under an aristocratic carve up dating from 1689 is hardly likely ever to become a democracy, especially when so many of its people solemnly recycle the cliches from right wing press which fill your post. There are major issues needing addressed in Scotland, not least on land use and abuse, and all we need from the British is that they just get out of our way.

    2. I don’t think it is as simple as that. If a large proportion vote for the Green party then it will be taken as meaning support not only for independence but also all the other Green party policies. If the Green party isn’t good enough for Andy Wightman then it’s not good enough for me.

      All I want is a ‘normal’ party to vote for with a wide pool of quality candidates and sensible policies but no party seems to offer this. I don’t care about independence, as long as the people in charge are of decent calibre.

  3. I would be interested in a follow up article as to how he would change the present system. Personally I think politics is pretty much knackered everywhere.

  4. A crudely contrived and disingenuous attack by Mark Smith on independence and the SNP, exploiting an emotive issue like animal welfare into which he quite gratuitously drags the constitution. There are perfectly clear and effective options for anyone who cares about both animal welfare and the constitutional issues and Mark Smith, who has a great deal of form on this kind of approach, contributes nothing to that debate.

    1. Journalism at it’s best. No wonder people don’t read newspapers any longer.

      It would have been better to drop the pretence and written something along the lines of “Nicola Sturgeon wants to kill these cute, baby beavers. Vote for the Union”.

      Actually if you look at the latest partnership between NatureScot and stakeholders (muahahahaha) on beaver management that’s true but kind of beside the point when comparing political parties in an election.

      There are no simple choices when picking someone to vote for. Who’d have thought.

      George M has it down on the large parties. They have to balance lots of competing issues and vested interests. That makes change difficult even when they want to do it. Beware of the Greens however. They can promise ponies and rainbows all day long because they don’t have to deliver on it. They do have other policies which you might not be so keen on so check out their manifesto to see what their priorities are.

      Disclaimer; Alba party member and support of women’s rights so I have a strong interest in seeing the Greens eliminated.

  5. Problem I have with the Greens is their refusal to call out wind farm development on sensitive sites like Peatlands etc. and its growing threat to BOP’s

  6. I worry about the grouse shooting in Wales. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot at present, and a Welsh Ukip minister denied any was ‘Driven’, but I wouldn’t trust the character with somebody else’s plastic Bargepole!

  7. As a supporter of independence and someone who wants to see an end to driven grouse moors and all the ills arising from them, my view is that the sooner we get independence the better – because I can not honestly see any route to the wholescale land reform and rebalancing of nature and the rural economy while Scotland remains part of the UK.

    I believe that an independent Scotland would have a new political landscape with new parties and policies which would offer a wider choice to voters along with the potential for much more accountability to the public. A better Scotland is possible, but not, in my view, under the present set-up.

    1. But what would be your currency and who would be your central bank? Where would you go to finance your programme? Who would finance your substantial inherited Sovereign debt? Which kind of borders would you have and who would agree to them?

      The UK was a Scottish idea, and for very good reason. Thatcher was mostly evil towards the Scots, but she is dead now, and we rioted too…

      1. “The UK was a Scottish idea,..”??…it was an idea agreed by the wealthy few who could make decisions back in the 17th and 18th century, when a tiny fraction of Scots had the vote. Incidentally the same tiny few who own much of our land and most of our grouse moors to this day. We are not living in the 17th century and all of your questions have 21st century answers, particularly when the majority of the people of Scotland will agree that “the UK is no longer a Scottish idea…” Its coming, lets make it work….

      2. Standard Anglo British pub talk implying that Scotland would need substitute donors to replace alleged English subsidy currency and that England would dictate the terms of our departure. The usual proprietoral perspective. The real problem here is not Scotland’s position on any of the these questions, which we will deal with like any other country, but the continued delusions around England’s place in the UK and the in the world generally. And as far as sovereign debt is concerned the British Government has already acknowledged the legal position that this debt was accrued by the UK and the UK is solely responsible for it.

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