by Jamie Stewart

Since my last newsletter the countryside has faced further attacks from those who would see the end of our way of life and activities. Allegations of missing birds of prey, celebrity condemnation of moorland management and heaven forbid, even visiting hunters having the audacity to smile in photographs. 

Negative campaigning is the process of deliberately spreading harmful information about someone or something to worsen the public image and to create the impression that there is public demand for "urgent reform”, such as that fuelled by the League Against Cruel Sports, Onekind, the RSPB and celebrity campaigners such as Chris Packham. The horrid cascade of their outrageous revelations in the media, especially social media, grows daily. The question is, is there really any evidence of public unrest and demand for change? 

The thousands of people – following on foot, mounted on horseback or lining village squares across Scotland – were out in force on the 1st January 2019 supporting the Scottish Foxhound packs New Year meets clearly didn’t think so. However, on the 9th January 2019, Mairi Gougeon Rural Affairs Minister chose to ignore evidence and science as she announced her intention to increase the protection for foxes and other wild mammals on the strength of the recent consultation on “Improving the Protection of Wild Mammals in Scotland”. 

The Minister stated: “We asked Lord Bonomy to undertake a review into how we can provide a sufficient level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals, whilst allowing for the effective and humane control of them when absolutely necessary, and published a consultation which attracted nearly 19,000 responses. After careful consideration of those responses, I’m pleased to say that we will be taking forward many of the recommendations in Lord Bonomy’s report to clarify and strengthen the Protection of Wild Mammals Act.”

It is my understating of the analysis that the consultation received 18,787 responses. However, 18,497 were generated by five online campaigns from unidentifiable respondents (98%) while 290 were substantive responses (2%). Two hundred and sixty-five individuals and twenty-five organisations took the responsible attitude of supplying their names and addresses. 

On further reading of the individual questions within the consultation we find further discrepancies.   

Question: Do you agree with the proposition that the onus should lie upon the accused to establish that their conduct falls within one of the exceptions provided in the 2002 Act? [Yes / No] Please explain your answer.

Among organisations and individuals, the substantive responses, two-thirds (66%) disagreed with this proposition. The 2,059 unidentifiable respondents whose views were submitted through the International Fund for Animal Welfare email campaign answered 'yes' to this question. Thus, among those who replied to the tick-box part of Question, the Scottish Government accepts that 94% of respondents agreed with the proposition.  

In all honesty, can the outcome of a consultation which accepts the views of unidentifiable respondents over that of identifiable members of the Scottish public be accepted with any confidence, in representing the democratic voice of Scotland? 

These attacks on our activities are nothing new, and I would hope that you would agree that we are well placed to defend them. However, when the Scottish Government choose to dismiss out of hand, the recommendations of their own commissioned review and ignore scientific research in favour of unqualified “public opinion” now that’s quite a different challenge. 

The Countryside Alliance is working hard to highlight rural issues in Holyrood but it is vital that people contact their MSPs about the issues that matter to them in person as this is the best way to get the message across. We need to act collectively if we are to ensure policy is based on “principle and evidence” and not allow “email campaigns” and “media noise” to set the agenda. 


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