Tuesday 14 July 2015

First successful SNP wind-up of Westminster is over hunting, of all things

Image result for fox

I confess this is not my own photo, I just copied it from an online library. I could not get a photo of the fox cub referred to in my last post because it was already stressed by the presence of so many humans, let alone by having a flash go off in its face. And I never see a fox in the wild to try to photograph - not in the Borders at least. In London, yes. Last time I was in London I saw a fox running past Victoria coach station and was told that's not unusual. These animals are not stupid, they know that in cities there is more food and less hassle.

In my last post I spoke too soon about the Conservative government quietly dropping its plans to re-legalise fox hunting. They announced a vote to take place today on liberalising the law to allow larger number of dogs to be used to flush out foxes before they are killed by shooting. At the last minute they cancelled it, apparently out of a fear that they would lose the vote. The Conservatives themselves, in line with tradition, would allow party members a free vote in accordance with their conscience, and enough Conservatives are opposed to hunting to make a majority uncertain when all other parties are also opposed. The Labour party broke with tradition to 'whip' their members to vote against, that is to make it a party disciplinary matter to vote as instructed, or else. The SNP gleefully seized the opportunity to 'remind David Cameron how small his majority is' by instructing all their large new wodge of MPs to vote against as well.

The irony here is that the law in Scotland is already more liberal than in England and the current plans would simply bring England in line. There was at one time a possibility that fox hunting might be legal on one side of the border and not the other, leading to much disingenuous argument by hunt supporters in the region covered by this blog to the effect that if the fox ran over the border, well, you know, it's not always very clear where the border is out in wild countryside, and you can't expect a pack of hounds to just stop running when they pass it ... So it would be better all round to keep the law of the two countries in line. But some people would rather do that by making Scottish law on the subject less permissive.

The really delightful aspect of this parliamentary manoeuvring is that the expression 'to whip' MPs derives from fox hunting in the first place. The party officials charged with making MPs do what the party leader wants, sometimes allegedly by means bordering on blackmail, were nicknamed 'whippers in' after the members of a hunt who keep the hounds rounded up and under control. There are other English idioms that come from the same source, such as 'in full cry', an expression sometimes used of 'a pack' of journalists in pursuit of their 'quarry'.

When fox hunting was first banned in England by the Labour government ten years ago I was quite sad about it, because I had happy memories of being taken along to meets as a child. I never went anywhere near a horse or a hound, we just went along to watch the riders assemble and enjoy the spectacle. Lots of people did that, especially on Boxing Day and New Year's Day, traditionally the two landmark meets of the season, hangovers notwithstanding. But the behaviour of hunt supporters in the decade since then has turned me against them. They have behaved with the most blatant arrogance, preserving the entire apparatus of hunting intact, ready for the confidently expected day when their own political party will legalise it all again, and pretending that it is merely an unfortunate accident when a fox is actually killed by dogs rather than the dogs being called off in time. Regardless of one's views on the ethics of hunting, most of us dislike seeing any group of people behaving as if they are above the law. It is not helping the Conservative party to shed its image as the party of the landed gentry and the large farmer.