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The Scottish Countryside Alliance held a hustings last Friday (16 April). We were delighted to welcome members and supporters, as well as panellists: Catriona Bhatia, Spokesperson for Rural Economy and Tourism (Scottish Liberal Democrat), John Erskine, Spokesperson for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Scottish Labour), Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing (SNP) and Oliver Mundell (Scottish Conservative).
Our Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, chaired the event that focused on priorities for rural Scotland. Topics covered included, hunting, rural crime, rural health, deer management and how the Scottish parliament can guarantee the rights of the rural minority.
For the most part we were encouraged by the responses to the questions posed, and indeed how each Party will approach priorities in the countryside.
When the panel was asked whether they supported the continued use of hounds in pest control, Mr Ewing said: "Pest control, first of all is necessary, and second of all the way in which it has traditionally been carried out with the use of dogs to flush out foxes to the gun has been tried and tested for a long and long time. It is a necessary method of pest control." Mr Ewing did clarify the distinction between the use of dogs for pest control and fox hunting for sporting purposes, which he does not support.
He went on to say that when hunting legislation was first debated in the Scottish Parliament he with cross-party colleagues "came to the conclusion that this traditional practice was actually the most humane way of dealing with it which quickly dispatched the fox in almost all circumstances and was carried out by professionals."
He added: "If I am re-elected, I would hope that I can be a strong rural voice, which will make sure that the strong evidence that these traditional practices, which had cross-party support 20 years ago, are matters which should be allowed to continue to control pests."
Mr Mundell said he agreed that the "current legislation works well". Mrs Bhatia said that she was worried that some political parties were using hunting as a means to get support for independence saying: "we need to be very careful that the Greens are not throwing this as a nugget for support for independence in the next parliament." Mr Erskine, said he would "like to see the practice stopped".
Party representatives agreed that recent examples, including the protection of mountain hares, of amendments being tabled at the final stage of legislative proceedings without proper consultation, were not acceptable, and that this should not happen in the next parliament. This, they argued, would help ensure rural groups feel they were being listened to.
Responses to questions on rural crime and rural health were encouraging, offering solutions to the perception of rural crime getting worse and health inequalities found in rural areas. Both issues the Scottish Countryside Alliance will continue to pursue.
The final question: Would you shoot a deer? Was met with support for deer management from all the members of the panel, not necessarily to be done by themselves – recognising the importance of wildlife management in Scotland.
Thanks again to members, supporters and panellists that attended.
You can watch the hustings on our YouTube channel.