The Scottish public care deeply about animal issues. Last year in the run op to the Holyrood elections OneKind and our partners in the More for Scotland’s Animals coalition commissioned a YouGov Poll to test public support for progress on animal welfare issues in Scotland. YouGov asked 1,000 adults in Scotland the extent to which they supported or opposed ten key policy recommendations that the animal charities, including OneKind, have put forward.
The results? The majority supported every single one of them. In most cases, overwhelmingly so. For example, 76% supported a ban on the use and sale of snares, 76% supported a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and 77% supported a ban on electric shock collars for dogs.
In spite of this appetite for progress amongst the public, animal welfare rarely features in manifestos in any significant way. Which is why we were delighted to see Scottish Labour publish an animal welfare plan last week. It is good to see recognition of animal welfare as a key part of the political agenda. Commitments are quite diverse and all are positive. Two commitments of particular importance are:
Working to bring an end to the cruelty of puppy farming – It has become increasingly clear that Scotland needs to urgently address the import of puppies from farms in Ireland and Eastern Europe and the farming of puppies within Scotland itself. It’s good to see this recognised and we hope to see progress on this issue soon.
Work towards bringing into effect game bird licensing in line with the principles of the petition currently before the Scottish Parliament – Driven grouse shooting is the root cause of so many animal welfare, conservation and environmental problems in Scotland. Licensing is a logical step towards dealing with this issue, and it’s good to see Scottish Labour nailing their colours to this mast.
Since Scottish Labour made these commitments a General Election has been called. The Election will of course be focused on ‘bigger’ issues of Brexit, but that’s no excuse to ignore other areas that are in urgent need of attention, including animal welfare. Animal welfare is for the most part a devolved matter, but it is still a priority for us in Scotland. Scottish MPs can vote on matters that concern other parts of the UK, and over the last session the SNP MPs in particular have involved themselves in animal welfare debates. We think this is justified, as animal welfare knows no borders.
Let’s hope, then, that animal welfare will not be forgotten in the manifestos this time round, and that others will follow Scottish Labour and make some public commitments to positive progress. As well as positive commitments, however, there are real dangers of backward steps too. Here are some key issues I will be looking out for:
1) Fox hunting in England – In 2015 the Conservatives pledged to “give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote”. If such a commitment is made by the Conservatives again and they have a significant majority a return of fox hunting in England would become a real threat.
2) Retention of animal protection policies post-Brexit – Many of welfare standards that are in place to protect farmed animals, such as the battery cage ban, and those policies that protect wildlife have their roots in EU law. A firm commitment to maintaining or, in the case of live exports, bettering EU law would be very welcome and would avoid what we all fear could otherwise happen: a race to the bottom.
3) A ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in England – This was a commitment made in the 2015 Conservative and Labour manifestos but to date no legislation has been brought forward in Westminster. It would be a great shame if this simple but important commitment is a casualty of the 2017 election.
4) An end to the badger culls – In 2015 Labour committed to “an end to the Government’s ineffective and cruel badger cull” whilst the Conservatives simply stated that they would “implement our 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB”, which includes badger culling. Since then the evidence that badger culling is ineffective and cruel has only got stronger. The 2017 election provides the opportunity to end this disastrous policy.
5) Greater protection for pets – measures are in progress to reform the system of licensing for animal establishments in England, including stricter regulation of dog breeding. It’s essential that this process is completed and not derailed by the election.