Outfoxing the Barbarians

page5hunting_2430273aBy Ian Dey

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Vote against repeal of the Hunting Act, and be damned for interfering in English affairs where they do not directly or indirectly affect Scotland. Do not vote, and be damned for failing to oppose the most right-wing Tory Government for decades.

The SNP made promises on both counts. They are caught on the horns of a dilemma of their own making. Must our newly fledged crop of MPs choose so soon between hypocrisy or humiliation? The subterfuge of awaiting the legislative detail merely prolongs the agony of indecision.

Having avowed to be a progressive force in UK politics, the SNP faces the ignominy of falling at the first hurdle. Cameron’s indecent haste to legalise a barbaric ‘sport’ has stirred passions against a crass and cruel practice. The foxes are not an irrelevance but another telling symbol of how this Government oppresses the weak and the defenceless.

Influential voices call for prudence rather than passion. There is no place for ‘English’ foxes in Gerry Hassan’s Caledonian Dream: no Barnett consequences for Scotland, no reason to vote. For Iain Macwhirter, a vote against repeal would be ‘hypocrisy squared’, Nicola Sturgeon herself having cited fox-hunting as an English affair over which the SNP has no mandate. And James McEnanay states bluntly that the Scots cannot have it both ways: the English would be just as unhappy, were we to deny them their fox-hunting, as we would be if Westminster imposed it on us.

And don’t be naive, warns McEnanay. Fox-hunting repeal is a Tory trap, set to lure the SNP into provoking a backlash which will legitimate EVEL. That won’t protect the foxes, and would impose more woes on Scotland through privatisations and austerity.

But is Cameron (to quote Baldrick) ‘as cunning as a fox who has just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University’? Does he really have a cunning plan to trap the unwary Scots? No – because a trap implies a surprise, and there is none. Certainly Cameron will exploit the SNP’s discomfort either way. But no cunning was needed. He merely gave an assist for an SNP own goal.

A free vote might seem to finesse the issue, but it would not. It would not offer leadership. And it would be just as useful to Cameron as an excuse for barracking the Scots.

There is a way of avoiding the own goal. It is time to reframe the story-line.

The SNP’s former role at Westminster has been overtaken by events. A hands-off approach could only work when the SNP presence was insignificant, not explosive. The long-standing practice (was it ever a principle?) of not voting on matters of no relevance to Scotland is no longer tenable.

Let us dispose – finally and for good – of the so-called West Lothian question. It was conceived as a divisive ploy by a vehement opponent of devolution, Tam Dayell, whose heart bled for English MPs barred from devolved assemblies, while the Scots still voted on English matters at Westminster. But the UK Parliament is in effect an English Parliament. When English interests are at stake, they can always vote us down. There are 533 MPs for England; 59 for Scotland, 40 for Wales and 18 for Northern Ireland. Do the sums. English MPs can always advance their own interests – even at our expense. That is why we have a devolved parliament, and they do not. We could never impose fox-hunting at Westminster, but without devolution they could – and would – impose it on us.

The SNP’s self-denying ordinance – no one else bothered – was a cosmetic aimed to placate over devolution while consigning the West Lothian question to the bottom drawer. Scotland could exercise its own powers more tactfully if legislation affecting England was tacitly treated as though it was also devolved. It was a case of the SNP tail soliciting goodwill (or at least forbearance) by promising not to wag the English dog.

Those days are gone now. The dog is angry, opportunistic, and in no mood to forbear. It is on the hunt for ways to cajole and punish the Scots. And it does not require excuses. The only conceivable rationale for SNP self-restraint was to solicit ‘fair play’ through a reciprocal abstention from Scottish affairs. That is now a joke, as my son would say. Or two jokes. First, unless and until Scotland becomes independent (and – let’s be realistic – even after) Westminster will continue to interfere covertly or brazenly in Scottish affairs. Second, like so many footballers these days, Westminster thinks ‘fair play’ means cheating whenever you can get away with it – and brazening it out if caught. Recall its breath-taking mendacity over the Vow, the civil service bias, and currency union.

The SNP should no longer play this game, for it cannot win it. No amount of good behaviour will induce a self-denying ordinance on the part of Westminster. Game theory shows that it is better to cooperate than compete; but also, that it is important to punish uncooperative behaviour. The referendum was lost in part because we were too nice. We offered to be good neighbours, and we did not anticipate or know how to deal with a neighbour who cheats. Now we are again thinking of being too nice – not to the foxes, but to David Cameron.

What worked before will not work now. It is polite not to tell your neighbour how to arrange his garden furniture. That is his business. But when he begins to beat his wife, that is everybody’s business. When his wife calls for help, because he is now beating the children, do you refuse the assistance you could give, just because it does not affect you?

If it fails to oppose the Tories in their thirst for barbarism, the SNP risks dissipating the enthusiastic support it has generated since the referendum. Much of that support is not narrowly focused on what affects only Scotland. It is engaged with a wider world. It is largely pragmatic, seeing national autonomy as a means to an end, and not an end-in-itself. Independence is part of its democratising agenda, not the whole of it.

The SNP tuned in to this groundswell of support, and blossomed with it. It has just participated fully in elections for Westminster, not Holyrood. It did not campaign on independence. It was not elected on a nationalist platform. It argued instead that it would protect the interests of Scotland at Westminster, as part of a broader progressive agenda: to challenge austerity economics and the uncaring arrogance of the Westminster establishment. It was a promise, not to abandon other progressive forces at the first hurdle, but to ally with them in pursuit of change. This was an effective counter against those who hoped to dismiss the SNP for pursuing a petty, parochial nationalism.

It was to be done by keeping Ed honest. That could never have been done by supporting Labour only when Scottish interests were at stake. Now it must be done by opposing Cameron. While still represented at Westminster, the SNP have a duty to protect the interests of all those at risk from Tory oppression. Including the foxes. We would indeed object to fox-hunting if Westminster tried to impose it on a devolved Scotland. But we should object to fox-hunting whatever. It is wrong, whoever and wherever someone tries to introduce it. The moral imperative to ban a barbaric sport transcends national boundaries. That includes Scotland too – there can be no place for complacency in a country itself dominated by rich estates and cruel sports. We are not exempt from accusations of animal cruelty and barbarism; we urgently need to put our own house in order.

It is not just animal rights, but human rights which are at stake – regardless of location or nation. The SNP can – and surely therefore must – resist Westminster policies which oppress the vulnerable, and not just those that oppress the Scots. How else could it hope to offer effective and honourable opposition? Just imagine the scenario: we won’t resist the withdrawal of Human Rights in England, just so long as we can fix it so that it does not affect us here in Scotland? This is a politics that washes its hands of suffering so long as it happens elsewhere. Is that really what we stand for?

The impact of the SNP in the election came from reaching across the boundaries that divide us. This was wise, for however the next referendum goes, our future will never lie entirely in our own hands. We need good neighbours. Independent or not, it is in our interest, short-term and long-term, to build a coalition of progressive forces not bound by any narrow conception of borders.

There is a difference between disinterest and indifference. We may be disinterested in the fate of the foxes, but we should not be indifferent.

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Comments (24)

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  1. TheGreatBaldo says:

    It’s one of those moral maze questions for sure.

    I suspect however the safety of English foxes was very low (if at all) on the list of reasons ‘Why I voted SNP’ for the majority of the 1.4 million who did so a fortnight ago.

    In fact I suspect the majority of those who did will take the view that if the English wish to act like barbarians, then we should of course counsel against it, but if their minds are made up we should just let them.

    And lets remember the Tories have a majority, so even if the SNP DO vote the Bill repealing it will still pass, making it the ultimate pointless symbolic gesture.

    And even if the SNP votes do tip the balance against repeal, the belligerent Tories will simply force thru EVEL and then…well at best the foxes get a stay of execution.


    I hope the SNP do make a stand and push the Tories to address this only after they have dealt with EVEL, with the explicit threat if they don’t then the SNP will intervene.

    This tactic I suspect maybe surprisingly effective, after all do the Tories *really* want a full blown absurdist constitutional rammy over the humble fox ?

    1. Neil says:

      I do wonder about anyone making a law against dogs tearing out foxe’s throats with their teeth.

  2. bringiton says:

    The SNP are not at Westminster to act as England’s conscience.
    England now has the government it democratically voted for,which presumably meant their support for all the Tory policies about to be implemented.
    I would have some sympathy for the moral argument if England were to support the abolition of Trident but none of the major English based parties do and surveys show the majority of English voters don’t either.
    The possibility that Scotland’s most populated area could be turned into a radioactive wasteland doesn’t seem to bother them too much,so although I am completely against this barbaric activity (fox hunting),it is their business and not ours.
    When the vote goes through,it can only emphasize the gulf that now exists between Scotland and England politically and bring separation closer.
    Fox hunting is their interest but Trident is very much ours.

    1. Millie says:

      since the SNP took all of labour’s seats in scotland it’s time they pulled their weight. The english don’t want hunting back and the tories only got in with one third of the votes so they are by no means popular. Scotland banned hunting two years before the english did so they have a moral obligation to support the english vote as foxes don’t care about man made boundaries and cross between scotland and england all the time. Also do you think a hunt is stopped because they have entered scotland? Hunters are well known to ignore the laws and if anything, the hunting act needs to be strengthened and not repealed.

      Never believe anything a pro hunter tells you. Foxes are not pests. They are part of the ecosystem and if the foxes where left alone then they would eat more rabbits (farmers really hate them for some reason) The hunters build artificial setts and provide food so there are always plenty of foxes to hunt and this you would not do if the fox was truly a pest.

      The tories are determined to turn all of england into their own personal shooting estate and we are at serious risk of loosing some of our most unique and special native creatures. If we can’t stop the tories then the generations that follow ours will suffer greatly as a result.

    2. Neil Anderson says:

      England DID NOT “democratically” vote Tory. They DID NOT. 24% of those eligible to vote cast their vote for the tories. “Democracy” is rule by the majority. Let’s all stop kidding ourselves that democracy is the first past the post system. It isn’t and never was. The majority of English voters DID NOT VOTE TORY. Is that clear?

  3. dunderheid says:

    “Just imagine the scenario: we won’t resist the withdrawal of Human Rights in England, just so long as we can fix it so that it does not affect us here in Scotland? This is a politics that washes its hands of suffering so long as it happens elsewhere. Is that really what we stand for?”

    Surely the logical conclusion to this argument is that Scotland should stay in the union to protect the English from themselves?

  4. Lesley Docksey says:

    “If the English wish to act like barbarians…”
    We do not wish to. The majority of the English, and that does include those living in “traditional” rural areas, do not support hunting. It is a question of morality – it isn’t moral to kill animals for fun. If the Tories were ever brave enough to put their money where their loud mouths are and held a referendum on the subject, they’d lose.
    I live on the borders of 3 very active fox hunts. They are brutal and thuggish and have no hesitation in vandalising the property of people who don’t support them. Many farmers hate them but dare not speak out. Last year the huntsman of one of the hunts deliberately galloped his horse over a woman hunt saboteur, seriously injuring her. Although there were witnesses and the incident was filmed, the Crown Prosecution Service at first said ‘there was too little evidence for them to prosecute’. Asked to reconsider, they are STILL doing so. The pressure from the Tories and the Countryside Alliance is probably making life difficult for them.
    Practically the day after the election, wildlife and anti-hunt people were asking ‘will we get support from Scotland?’ It may not be that obvious in Scotland, but so many English, looking at the damage Cameron and his pals will inflict on this country, are now gazing hopefully at the SNP. One could, should, and must say that the English can’t dump all their problems at the feet of the 56 SNP MPs. But, unlike the Scots who seem, from the conversation going on, to be feeling very empowered in their Scottishness, the English are feeling disempowered and looking for any straws to grasp at. We will, we are gathering our strength and getting ourselves together, but that will take a little time. One reason why I think Cameron is trying to implement all his ghastly policies in the next few months, while we are still weak.
    And, no matter how many times people, including Cameron, tell me he has a majority, I have to keep shouting: three quarters of the electorate didn’t vote for him and his rich man’s cabinet. It was the FPTP system that voted him in, not us.

  5. Bidge Graham says:

    I sent this letter to my MP a few days ago as I want the SNP to take a stand

    “Hi Martin

    I know the SNP normally abstains from votes that effect only England and Wales. Thus I know you may not be able to vote on this due to party policy.

    However, I am going to lay out my case anyway why I think the SNP needs to vote on this issue.

    1: Hunting foxes using dogs is abhorrent,
    2: I believe the majority of real people in England & Wales don’t want the ban repealed and need someone to defend them,

    As far as I see it, it’s actually quite simple and the SNP can vote without breaking their word.

    We were asked “to lead the UK”. Correct?

    Then that is what you will be doing if you and the other SNP MP’s vote, which I hope you will. It is a matter of conscience and just as the SNP promised to keep Labour honest, you can also be the conscience of the Tory party. Every time that the Tories choose to try and put through a Bill that the SNP and wider populace sees as “Evil” you can choose to “lead the UK”, by being its conscience.

    Thus on votes that effect only England and Wales, I believe the SNP can take the moral high ground and win the hearts of minds of sensible English and Welsh voters.

    The SNP also made a vow to make progressive alliances. No doubt the Green’s (Caroline) will be voting against this and she’ll need our help.

    Many might also be arguing that Cameron has manufactured this vote to test the SNP’s word on not voting on matters that effect only Wales & England and that either way its a win-win for him, as he either gets the law repealed or he gets to paint the SNP as word breakers. I however disagree that either way its a win for him, as per my argument above. Its a win for the SNP by taking a moral stance to defend England and Wales against the Tories. The Tory press will play it out as win for Cameron, but the ordinary person will know who stood in their corner. It could be a massive coup for the SNP in gaining further support from moderates and Left leaning persons across both Wales and England.

    Apart from all that I go back to my first bullet point, “Hunting foxes using dogs is abhorrent”.

  6. Christian Wright says:

    Ian Dey: “It is not just animal rights, but human rights which are at stake – regardless of location or nation. The SNP can – and surely therefore must – resist Westminster policies which oppress the vulnerable, and not just those that oppress the Scots”

    This is sophistry. It justifies any interference in the affairs of another polity simply by labeling it a matter of human rights, regardless of the demonstrable truth that it is not.

    CLEARLY, it is not human rights at stake here but those of creatures that cannot defend themselves. It is abominable, I agree. However that does not give us the right to usurp the express will of the English people AS THAT IS DEFINED by our imperfect parliamentary system.

    Like it or not, the Tories were given a parliamentary mandate by the English electorate to, among other things, repeal the ban on fox hunting in England. For SNP MPs to interfere would be an act of political malfeasance, for it would surely create a precedent injurious to the interests of Scotland and its people. That’s the realpolitik.

  7. J Caldwell says:

    An internet search shows that there is a Borders Hunt based in Otterburn, Northumberland that hunts the area stretching as far north as Jedburgh. I do not know if this hunt still operates and would re-commence fox hunting if the ban is repealed but, if so, it would give a Scottish dimension to the affair and allow the SNP members to become involved without accusations of hypocrisy.

  8. Joe says:

    If I was overlord I would just say if the Tories want to bring back fox hunting in the rest of the UK. I would table a law banning all shooting of animals for sport in Scotland such as grouse and deer.

    This would give David Cameron a bigger problem from all his landed gentry chums including his father in law.

  9. Will says:

    The reason why the SNP would be justified to vote on this matter is that if a Scottish fox from the Scottish side of the border inadvertently crosses over the border into England then it may be hunted if the ban is lifted, so as to protect the Scottish foxes the SNP could vote to keep the fox hunting ban in place. The added bonus is that the SNP would also be supporting the protection of the English foxes and also the thoughts of progressive people in in the UK.

    1. Bidge Graham says:

      My wife said the same. Animals know no borders. In fact during the IndyRef the RSPB launched a campaign specifically entitled just that.

  10. Fran says:

    Nice one Joe

  11. Annette says:

    Damned by Tories if they do what is morally right, or damned by their own supporters and by decent folk across the UK if they enable despicable Tory policies – seems a straightforward choice to me. The SNP can easily justify their vote with reference to the many, many English people who have urged them to use it.

    And I disagree with the argument brought forth by some that if the English wish to be Barbarians then we should let them – the foxes have no idea whether they are English or Scottish and they certainly did not vote Tory.

    1. colin douglas says:

      I agree.

      In taking a moral stand, the bonus for the SNP would be that it would help the cause of Independence by aggravating the Tories and making them understand that they still don’t get it all their own way and maybe they will start to be a bit more sanguine about Scottish Independence.

      Joe’s idea would certainly raise Tory hackles so I am all for that.

  12. Juteman says:

    As I support the right of self determination for every country, I can’t support Scottish interference in English affairs. The English voted this government in. Full stop.
    I might even resign my new SNP membership over this.

  13. Steve Cairns says:

    A free vote is perfectly appropriate. Scottish voters are still part of the union, around half of them like it that way and even for those who don’t , the right of their local MP to represent them on ALL issues put before a UK parliament needs defending. At the same time, the SNP executive should clearly not use party discipline to collectively impose or orchestrate Scottish “national” interference in how England wishes to express or define it’s own culture. The situation which affords them the opportunity to do otherwise is implicit in a flawed constitution and electoral system. The assumption here that leadership always requires ordering people what to do is equally flawed. I suggest anyone with a strong view on how the English kill foxes of whatever nationality, should follow Bidge Graham’s example above and write to their local MP. I hope the SNP executive can take a step back and let freely expressed conscience shoot Cameron’s fox for him as soon as he sets it running.

  14. Connor McEwen says:

    So says usyins Bringiton,Sosaysall of us ,Bringiton

  15. Donald McGregor says:

    It was likely an error on NS part to quote the Fox hunting issue, as bang, here it is.
    The SNP in the 2015 GE however openly offered their services to aid the cause of progressive politics in Westminster.

    On the world stage, ‘we’ see no problem in condemning capital punishment. In fact ‘we’ make open comment and political threats through the appointed representatives of ‘enlightened’ regimes who have banned it.

    A moral argument is a moral arguement no matter how you cut it and if you have a vote then there is an obligation to use it wisely. If we don’t want to use our votes then maybe we should be taking the Sinn Fein line of non recognition?

    Maybe the SNP approach needs to morph into one of official abstention but allowing a free vote with an expectation that any vote cast will reflect Scottish government policy or viewpoint?

  16. arthur thomson says:

    It is the responsibility of people in rUK to defeat the re-introduction of fox hunting. The time is now for them to mount a major campaign against it, lobbying the support of Tory MP’s. This needs to be the beginning of concerted effort by all those in rUK who feel disenfranchised to stand against all Tory legislation. Scottish MP’s should talk against the legislation but should not vote on the matter. Unionists and those indifferent to Scottish independence, on all sides, will be predisposed to criticise the SNP regardless of how we approach this. Our friends will understand that we have to respect the sovereignty of people in rUK in all matters pertaining exclusively to them. For us to do otherwise would be hypocritical. Scotland just voted out a fine collection of hypocrites and I have to believe they have been replaced by more principled people.

  17. scottieDog says:

    So if none of our snp mps vote on the issue and mundell does then that’s net +1 pro-hunting vote coming down from scotland. I’m assuming he is pro hunting of course.

  18. Neil says:

    Nicola is on record as saying that this is the kind of vote that Scottish MP’s should leave to English MP’s. Mr Cameron is small minded enough to rush to test this statement so it’s no surprise that he’s chucked his little political grenade in her direction.
    I think she should pick it up and throw it back. She should repeat that it is her instinct to leave the English electorate to be represented in this matter by the MP’s that they voted for. However, I think she should add that if sufficient English MP’s were willing to go on record, in advance of the debate and vote, to invite Scottish MP’s to participate in this English matter then she would be more than willing to take another look at her decision.

  19. Raymond says:

    Personally I’d rather allow the English and Welsh people to decide their own position on this matter. I’m sick of Scotland being held responsible for saving the English from themselves.

    However tactically it would be more politically beneficial for the SNP to vote against the repeal. The SNP have courted a very wide swath of support from it’s traditional supporters of independence to more left-wing socialists. Abstaining from the vote would probably cause more loss to the SNP support, than being some what hypocritical and interfering as traditional independence voters don’t have any alternative political parties.

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