Barely-suppressed contempt for Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan in petitions committee meeting on mountain hare protection vs falconry

The Scottish Parliament’s ‘Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee’ is currently considering a petition that was first submitted in February 2021 by a falconer, Barry Blyther, calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to amend the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 to allow mountain hares to be hunted for the purposes of falconry (Petition PE1859, here).

The basic premise of the petition (and I’m simply summarising here – if you want the full details please read the petition details) is that Barry wants to be able to hunt mountain hares with his golden eagle for ‘sport’. Barry argues that since the mountain hare received full legal protection in 2020 after a late amendment from Scottish Green’s MSP Alison Johnstone to the drafting of the Animals and Wildlife Bill (here and here), he can no longer legally hunt mountain hares for fun, and he wants the Scottish Government to amend the legislation to provide an exemption for falconers.

Some of you may recall the furore that erupted amongst the shooting industry after the mountain hare was given full legal protection, because it meant an end to the grotesque annual slaughter of thousands of mountain hares on some driven grouse moors. For example, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said it was thinking of setting up a new political party “to ensure the working countryside is represented better” (here) and landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates wasn’t happy either (here).

The raw fury when their sense of entitlement had been so adeptly overridden was palpable, and that contempt was very much still in evidence by several pro-fieldsports MSPs during a Petitions Committee hearing on 21st December 2022, held to further consider Mr Blyther’s petition on ‘upland falconry’ and his desire to hunt mountain hares for ‘sport’.

I watched the archived video of that hearing this afternoon and would encourage you to do the same, if you have time (it’s here and it’s the first item on the agenda).

If you’d prefer to read the transcript, that’s here:

Environment Minister Mairi McAllan had been invited to this committee hearing to answer questions on this petition. She was accompanied by her senior civil servant Hugh Dignon and Stan Whittaker from NatureScot.

The rude, disrespectful and frankly unpleasant manner of some of the Petitions Committee members towards Mairi McAllan is quite shocking. I’ve seen behaviour like this, first hand, from the pro-grouse shooting MPs in Westminster (here) but I haven’t previously seen this in the Scottish Parliament. Convenor Jackson Carlaw MSP (Conservative), Fergus Ewing MSP (SNP) and Alexander Stewart MSP (Conservative) deserve particular rebuke for their style of questioning. Jackson Carlaw told the Minister the committee was “quite exercised” by the Government’s response to the petition – that’s one way of describing it.

Mairi McAllan handled it brilliantly, calling them out a few times and delivered a well-considered response, superbly supported by Hugh Dignon, explaining that the mountain hare is protected because there are concerns for its conservation status, that falconers could still practice falconry without the threat of prosecution if they take care to hunt in areas with a low density of mountain hare, and in a nature emergency, the conservation status of the mountain hare is of greater importance than sporting or recreational activity.

I particularly enjoyed her wry smile when the Convenor spoke over her (again) and instead turned his attention to Hugh Dignon for an answer:

I think the considered explanations from Mairi and Hugh fell on deaf ears though because at the next hearing of the Petitions Committee, held on 18th January 2023, the Committee decided to go back to the Minister for further clarification on a few points (they seem to have missed the main point about the conservation status of the mountain hare being the primary priority) and Fergus Ewing, who likes to get his own way, says:

I forgot to say that, at the very end of the letter to the minister, we could perhaps politely indicate that all members of the committee feel particularly exercised and concerned about this matter, and it is therefore our intention to pursue it. We should indicate that we are treating it very seriously indeed, and perhaps thereby inject a little bit of lead into the ministerial pencil“.

Here is the transcript from the hearing on 18th January 2023:

We’re all well aware of Fergus Ewing’s strong support for the fieldsports industry – I’ve blogged about it many times before (e.g. see here) so his position on this particular pro-fieldsports petition is no surprise whatsoever.

The other two, Jackson Carlaw MSP and Alexander Stewart MSP are both Scottish Conservatives so their positions shouldn’t come as a surprise either, although the evident vitriol in their questioning style is a bit more perplexing.

I note with interest that Alexander Stewart MSP attended this BASC lunch in November to celebrate Great British Game Week. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

11 thoughts on “Barely-suppressed contempt for Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan in petitions committee meeting on mountain hare protection vs falconry”

  1. It’s just not fair. A load of biased, very irritated Scottish MP’s, unable to hold a logical, comprehensive, fair minded discussion on a subject in which they obviously have some vested interest, unable to accept from a well informed and astute Minister the answers to their questions. It’s a master class. It should be used in business education, although the opposition arguments were very weak and the replies from the Minister had to be repeated for them understand. Lots of hidden agenda’s on display. An indication of what is going to happen when Scottish Land Reform really gets going. Scottish Land and Estates watch out.

  2. I wish to give my thanks to those who formed Raptor Persecution, in that they have given a well-founded base for intelligent dialogue on blood sports, and in exposing clearly just who the enemies are, who would retain the UK in a retrograde and perverted past, with regard to seeking recreation from killing wildlife. The general public in Scotland has acquired a better insight into what is going on in the countryside, and about those holding strategic positions in politics, and using that power to maintain debunked reasons for allowing blood sports to continue any longer in the form that is causing so much concern. The presence of Fergus Ewing raises the hackles in many animal welfare and species conservation campaigners, in that this influential person has a track record of being a malign obstructionist in many attempts by humane organisations and individuals, to cleanse Scotland of its medieval way of finding fun out of the barbaric treatment of sentient creatures by hunters. It is totally unacceptable for politically and humanely involved people to allow huge swathes of the natural landscape to have its wildlife suppressed by a regime that should have been made to disappear long ago. The sheer arrogance and contempt shown by those employed to ensure game bird numbers, have been so shocking, that the killings of Birds of Prey such as Eagles and Hen Harriers have reached the main News channels, and had prominent mention in the Press. The recent refusal by Rees-Mogg, to ban snares, when massive public opinion and even strong support from within his own party, cried out for that to be implemented, has added to other refusals to implement animal welfare and conservation appeals, e.g. the Rees-Mogg reason for not condemning tourist participation in Elephant exploitation in Thailand and elsewhere as a tourist “attraction”, was that it would “stop people enjoying themselves!” We live in a world of great cruelty, exploitation and discrimination, surely it should be recognised that the British public has become a very strong charitable giving one, with a big majority of it condemnatory of the dreadful way factory farming has become; killing of whales/dolphins; circuses; certain zoos; trophy shooting; animal torture online; puppy farming; slaughterhouses and many more ways of making money out of cruel practices.


    1. V well said. Totally agree. The public will not tolerate this level of abuse anymore. And I’d also like to than RPUK for its magnificent work

  3. Three cheers for Mairi McCallon. Totally held it together in the face of such unpleasantness.
    It’s time this man found a more harmless hobby

  4. I’d say that the Scottish Parliament has taken a very misogynistic turn in recent months and this is being manifested quite blatantly here, especially in ignoring/over-riding the (female) minister and asking the (male) advisor for his view.
    As for the overtly masculine sexual innuendo of “lead in the pencil”… I’m speechless! Maybe a suggestion that the little lady should leave this to the men-folks?

  5. Thank you RPUK for making this readily available to us. As was said earlier, a MASTERCLASS critique of how crude some people’s attempts at manipulation of the powers they hold can be….out of their own mouths, for all of us to see. Forget the poverty of argument, just look at the behaviour.
    Be gone, you clowns!

  6. I felt ashamed of Scotland to watch this kind of behaviour from some of the MSPs sitting formally on the Petitions Committee. Even worse that one of them was the Chair of the Committee. Everyone has a right to have their own opinion, but the attitudes and rudeness on display are not an acceptable way to put forward their opinions in a formal setting of this kind. Where is *their* shame? I hope their constituency parties and their constituents take note and vote them out.

    1. Far from being ‘ashamed of Scotland’, as you put it, I was encouraged to see a young female minister, one of several, exposing, with real poise, the nature of 4 dinosaurs, three of whom are the Tory puppets of another country and a fourth who would be an outlier in any party. They are not representative of the parliament or of Scotland. I was also encouraged to hear the Minister reiterate the view that conservation overrides any purely sporting considerations. Do you see nothing positive in all that, for conservation, or for Scotland ?

      1. I agree the Minister is to be commended, as she dealt extremely well with the situation, and showed herself to be very well informed in all matters relevant to the topic. However, that does not excuse the behaviour of these MSPs.

  7. What this debate also demonstrates is just how parliament operates, and how those parts of society which oppose changes to legislation which might impact upon their activities will use their elected representatives to try and thwart or amend legislation which might have a negative impact on their activities. In this case hunting mountain hares for sport with falcons.

    This could serve as an important lesson when it comes to the Scottish parliament passing legislation to regulate and licence game shooting.
    Those opposed to the introduction of this legislation could well seek to thwart the effectiveness of any licensing scheme by trying to introduce exemptions, clauses or amendments which could legitimize activities which really should be prohibited if evidence of those activities could form part of a case as to why a particular estate should have its licence suspended.

    It was therefore very encouraging that the Minister held her ground, and dealt very professionally with such hostile, rude and disrespectful behaviour by some individuals who appeared to be either choosing to ignore her explanations or so witless that they couldn’t understand what was being said.
    Hopefully she will do the same if similar tactics are used by the pro shooting lobby when the Scottish Government pass the proposed legislation to licence game shooting.

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