Boxing Day is one of the big events in the hunt calendar. Today fox hunts across Scotland will once again set out to kill foxes in spite of the so-called ban that was introduced fourteen years ago.
For years, OneKind and others have been calling for the law to be updated so that the ban is made effective, and in 2016 these calls were finally heard. Lord Bonomy published his review of the law and it paves the way for complete reform.
We still have a long way to go, however. The Scottish Government needs to prioritise the issue. There will be a Government response to the review, a public consultation, and then a Parliamentary process and vote. But I believe that a ban is ultimately inevitable. Here are three reasons why.
1. The credibility of the Scottish Parliament is at stake
The Protection of Wild Mammals Act (2002) was introduced by the Scottish Parliament with a fanfare and optimism for a more compassionate country. SNP MSP Richard Lochhead, declared at the time that “when people wake up in Scotland tomorrow, the country will be a little bit more civilised”. Fourteen years later and hunting continues more or less as it did. If the hours and hours of monitoring by the League Against Cruel Sports that show hunting as usual is not enough for you, here is Lord Bonomy’s gentle but incisive observation: “there is a view, for which there is some supporting evidence, that the flushing from cover for pest control exception is a decoy for the continuation of some traditional hunting practices”.
The Scottish Parliament set out to ban fox hunting. It failed. With every blow of the horn announcing another hunted fox on Scottish soil, the credibility of the Parliament is undermined. Lord Bonomy has given the Scottish Government a mandate to correct this; failure to do so would suggest that they are either unwilling or unable to enforce their will.
2. The reality of continued hunting is toxic
Polling shows that the Scottish public overwhelmingly back a fox hunting ban, and it’s through this lens that the media report it. Fox hunting is not a subtle activity. With so much hunting continuing, it’s inevitable that hunts will be encountered by the public and their activities will find their way into the media. Every time this happens, it understandably causes outcry, making it toxic for the Scottish Government.
It was interesting to note that there were many submissions to the Bonomy Review from ordinary members of the public who are affected by local hunts. One such individual contributed this blog to our site earlier this year. But easily the most toxic story of 2016 was the report on a post-mortem on a fox killed by a hunt, which was reported in the national news and on the front page of the Sunday Times. This was the first post-mortem of a hunted fox since the ‘ban’ was introduced in 2002. The carcass was recovered from a hunt and handed to our partners Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue. We arranged for it to be independently post-mortemed by SAC Consulting Veterinary Services. Their conclusion was that “death will have been due to a combination of respiratory failure, blood loss and shock. This will have caused significant unnecessary suffering to the fox.”
This was not an unusual case. It’s estimated that at least 150 foxes are killed by hounds during hunts in Scotland every year. It seems inevitable that such stories will continue to cause outcry until fox hunting is finally banned.
3. Deviating from a ban would be politically damaging
In the Summer of 2015 the SNP made a dramatic intervention in Westminster that prevented the Conservative-led Government from proceeding with their plans to undermine the fox hunting ban in England and Wales. Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster and now deputy party leader, said: “We totally oppose foxhunting and, when there are moves in the Scottish parliament to review whether the existing Scottish ban is strong enough, it is in the Scottish interest to maintain the existing ban in England and Wales”.
This set the wheels in motion towards a ban. The next step was the announcement that the Scottish law would be reviewed by Lord Bonomy. This came exactly one year ago, on Boxing Day 2015. The report was published in November and it puts forward a series of recommendations that, if implemented, would fundamentally change the law for the better.
Failure to implement these recommendations or introducing delay is of course an option, but it would be an unnecessarily damaging path to take. The SNP, the Scottish Government, and the public are all aligned on this issue. Commitments have been made at the highest possible level. We are on the trajectory towards a ban, as animal campaigners our job is to keep the pressure on so that this path is followed as quickly as possible. If we do this, who knows. Maybe this will be the last boxing day the hunts go out.