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.
Let’s have a look at a few points:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.