The end and beginning of days

It’s beginning, finally, to look like the end of days for fox hunting in Scotland.

At the beginning of the year the Scottish Government announced that it will strengthen the existing, so called, fox hunting ban. And now, Alison Johnstone, Green MSP has upped the ante by unveiling draft legislation that would protect foxes and mountain hares across the board.

This may look like an embarrassment of riches for animals that are being killed for entertainment but there are very good reasons behind the two political moves.

For five years, the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland has been filming patterns of behaviour of the ten fox hunts that each still go out three times a week between October and March. The evidence convinced the Government to commission Lord Bonomy to undertake an independent Review of the legislation. That Review recommended that the law should be strengthened and the Government subsequently announced that is what it plans to do.

The question is when?  Brexit has caused a backlog of legislation and there’s a danger that Scottish fox hunts will be allowed to continue to exploit the existing weak law for two or three more years.

Polling, petitions and rallys crystallised the enormous scale of public support to “really ban fox hunting”. There’s no denying that the spectre of encouraging a pack of hounds to chase and kill foxes across the countryside is repugnant to the vast majority of Scots.

That’s why it’s so important that a Bill coming from the Greens in this Parliament threatens to steal the Government’s thunder if they don’t really ban fox hunting before the next elections in 2021.

Even the Conservative Party’s UK leadership contest has provided the Scottish Government with palpable evidence that fox hunting is reviled across the UK.  When Jeremy Hunt mentioned the possibility of reintroducing fox hunting he was castigated by all sides.  What better an SNP riposte than to strengthen the ban in Scotland and finally really ban fox hunting here?

It’s also good to see that Alison Johnstone MSP wants to stretch the envelope by tackling fundamental errors of fact that for decades have demonised native species as “vermin” to be killed with impunity. Hate speech, like “vermin” or “pest” and bureaucratic words like “management” and “control” have outweighed rational scientific facts for decades. These words have provided cover for mounted fox hunts who get their pleasure from seeing a pack of hounds being encouraged to chase and kill foxes.

The same words are employed to explain why foxes, mountain hares, stoats, weasels, crows and ravens are systematically eradicated from the Scottish uplands. Estate owner’s call it “vermin control” while in the highlands it’s really grouse protection. Untold thousands of animals are trapped, snared or shot so that a small minority of people can blast another hundred or so thousand grouse to kingdom come.

It’s not known as a circle of destruction for nothing.

A Green Party Bill that effectively protects foxes and mountain hares will be painted as outrageously radical. Indigenous species perfectly positioned in bio-diverse habitats will be vilified. Anyone arguing from a scientific viewpoint will be ridiculed. Names will be called and characters will be assassinated. It’s what happens.

The end of days for fox hunting is also the beginning of days for a greater appreciation and questioning of why so many animals are condemned to die in the Scottish countryside. The League is a proud founding member of the Revive coalition. Together in a unique partnership with environmental and social justice organisations we are calling for reform of Scotland’s grouse moors. In the last 150 years these uplands were first depopulated and then “managed” and “controlled” into a “manscape” designed to encourage an unnatural huge density of grouse which are then shot for fun.

Alison Johnstone’s Bill will no doubt ginger up the Scottish Government and encourage it to really ban fox hunting before the next election. More importantly, in recognising the inalienable position of wild animals in their natural habitats - it is the first legislative assault on decades of emotional invective used as cover for killing animals for entertainment.

Robbie Marsland is Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland

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