Political wildlife protection

Mountain Hares are more saved than they were… Photo: David Mitchell

People say that wildlife protection should not be a political matter – by which they usually mean a party political matter. But it is, and it should be.

Let’s examine the protected status given to Mountain Hares in Scotland by the Scottish Parliament yesterday after a vote of MSPs.

First, it was a great result! Mountain Hares cannot now be wiped out over large areas by mass culls on the basis of a mixture of prejudice and self-interest. Culling will still be possible, but only under licence, so we’ll have to see what the licensing regime and its enforcement look like.

Mountain Hares. Photo: Mike Johnston

Let’s have a look at a few points:

  1. Who voted each way? Alison Johnstone’s (Scottish Green) Amendment 30 was passed by 60 votes to 19. The 19 votes, against, were all the Conservative MSPs and a lone LibDem with a constituency which has mountains in it! The 60 votes, for, were all the SNP MSPs, all the Green MSPs, all the Labour MSPs and a couple of LibDem MSPs who don’t have mountains in their constituencies. Now tell me that there was nothing political in this, and nothing party political?
  2. Everybody claimed they had Mountain Hares’ best interests at heart. It reminded me of the Fox hunting debates – Foxes need to be hunted apparently, although others claimed they would reach plague proportions without hunting. Nobody had the guts to say (while I was paying attention anyway) ‘It’s just a Rabbity animal and of course we should be able to shoot it whenever we want. Who cares?’ although that might have been a tad more honest.
  3. There was a big public lobby of MSPs. I do wonder what would have happened if there had not been a petition and if the Scottish voters had not been encouraged to write to their MSPs. The response was huge and, we can speculate, was heavily in favour of the way the vote was cast. If you wrote to your MSP or signed the petition then you were being political, you helped and if Mountain Hares had mobile phones they’d send you a text of thanks.
  4. Everyone could say they won something. Other useful amendments were passed but one which would have given Beavers greater protection was not passed – and I can see some good, although not overwhelmingly good, reasons why it wasn’t. Everybody got something, but nobody got everything they wanted.

This is politics, and it is also democracy in action.

Does this mean that the Scottish Parlaiment is made of nature lovers? No, but they are a lot more that way inclined than the Westminster Parliament which is wilfully blind to issues of wildlife protection.

Does this mean that the Scottish Government will respond to Werritty and say that they will bring in licensing of grouse shooting? Who knows? Maybe they don’t know yet, even. The strength of feeling from voters in favour of wildlife was very impressive and any politician wanting those votes will have taken notice. But some SNP MSPs, naming no names, in rural communities may feel that they have taken the flak for this one and licensing would be step too far. We’ll have to see.

I’m not describing the political calculus in an admiring way; just telling you what might be happening. It’s not science, or common sense, or even a love of animals that will be important, though all will make contributions, it’s political calculation. I couldn’t be a politician. But the world is full of them and we need to understand the system and make it work for wildlife.


11 Replies to “Political wildlife protection”

  1. Of course wildlife protection is a party political matter. The vote in the Scottish Parliament makes this very evident. Well done to those who voted to help the mountain hares, terrific and desperately needed. It is also a major step towards laying the absolutely total rubbish put forward by most Tory’s that blood sports are good for wildlife. A fallacy put forward by those that like killing our wildlife for fun.
    As long as licensing provides proper protection to our mountain hares it should also help golden eagles as they catch mountain hares for food.
    The protection of mountain hares is also a significant step towards banning driven grouse shooting. It represents a useful ban on the shooters carrying out one of their many slaughters of our wildlife.
    So it is shame on the Tory MSPs. They have been shown up for what they are.
    I am afraid we can’t expect the same wildlife consideration from the Westminster Parliament with its host of Tories, but keep plugging away. It is a very useful victory north of the border and maybe the Welsh Parliament will take note

  2. Agree with much of this. I’d add that political skills are required in a political environment. I thought the Scottish Green Party managed a curiously complex situation (boring process details omitted) in a skilful and fleet-footed way which in the end completely cornered the Scottish government. Of course it was all based on excellent and persistent work over years by OneKind in particular, but quite often being political is abour recognising and seizing the moment. And the other learning? It’s no good expecting nothing of the system (as regrettably apparently do too many commentators on social media). You need to believe that we have a functioning democracy and that you can make a difference. The victories yesterday (and Marcus Rashford) show that focussed public intervention does make a difference so I hope those of a baleful disposition will become a little more positive.

    1. But you do not have a functioning democracy, or any other kind of democracy. You have an elective dictatorship, the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament, which gives almost total power to the leader of the majority party. That is why you have to rely, laughably, on a footballer to change things, instead of relying on a codified constitution based on the sovereignty of the people with the powers and the diverse political system which flow from that – like the mature modern democracies of civilised Europe. It is also why you have seen no progress on wildlife and also, incidentally, why you can do nothing about the creepy unelected guy in the T Shirt who is currently selling off what’s left of your country to the Americans.
      Worth noting too that the small gain made for hares in the Scottish Parliament was carried by the members of four different parties acting against a fifth in a parliament which operates routinely through shifting coalitions, a system impossible in the rigid dictatorial two party Westminster system. Holyrood’s system is a very long from perfect but it gives a hint of what might be possible with constitutional reform in Anglo Britain.

  3. 2 issues with what you’ve written M Avery:
    1) no mention whatsoever of the science, and whether this decision is supported by the science (it isn’t);
    2) ‘this is democracy in action’, you say – complete tosh; it’s keyboard warriors in action, cajoled by the likes of you (in england, i might add), to add their name to a petition that they little understand, simply because you ask them to. and it’s politicians in scotland who lack the backbone to stand up to this haranguing (though i might call it bullying).

    1. Justin – there was metion of the science, but this blog post was, pretty obviously about the politics (the clue is in the title). But I have written about the science several times on this blog, most recently 3 days ago, that would be two days before the blog you are commenting on https://markavery.info/2020/06/16/sign-this-petition-today-please/ It’s pretty difficult to cajole anyone into signing a petition – if you were to think about it for a fraction of a second.

    2. As one of the ‘cajoled 23,000’, I feel rather put out by your remark. I reckon I am more familiar with my understanding of the issues and the reasons why I signed the petition and wrote to my MSP than you are. I suspect I might also understand both the science and democracy better than you too, but that’s just a hunch, based only having worked in public administration for 35 years.

    3. Are you suggesting lobbying on this issue only came from those who wanted to ban mass culls of mountain hares? Perhaps the majority of politicians actually ignored the constant bleating and obfuscation from a landowning/shooting/game-keeping lobby who were far from silent on this issue, looked at all the scientific evidence and reached their decision?

  4. Well done to the politicians who have done something to stop this dispicable slaughter and well done to everyone who signed the petition.
    The Mountain Hare says big thank you to Mark as probably many who signed would have never known about the vote without him putting it on his blog.

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