Fox Hunting in British Politics

Today, the UK’s House of Commons was supposed to vote on relaxing the fox hunting with hounds ban in England and Wales. But they’re not going to. If you’re not a citizen of the United Kingdom (and even if you are) you might be very confused by the situation.

The United Kingdom is composed of several countries, check out C. G. P. Grey’s video for a very good explanation of terms. A proportion of these countries want to be independent. Recently, 45% of the Scottish electorate wanted to become independent, which manifested itself in a massive swelling of the ranks of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) elected to the United Kingdom’s government of Westminster.

Before we go further, I think I have to say something about my own voting here. I don’t make a secret of my political affiliation and you could find out without much difficulty, but in my role as communicator/educator on this blog, I want to present you with the science and let you make up your own opinion. Although I’m open to hearing if you think I should make my affiliations public in relation to this post.

The right wing conservative government therefore only has one supporter in Scotland, an MP from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.  In Scotland there is also a Labour MP who opposes the majority conservative UK government but still supports the union. And there is also one Liberal Democrat MP who outright lied about the SNP party’s leader and who is currently being sued by his constituents.

This means that 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in Westminster are held by a party who want independence from the rest of the UK and who are there to increase devolved powers (the SNP believes that independence can only come from a mandate set by Scotland’s devolved parliament, not from Westminster – the impetus for independence must come from the Scottish voters.). But what does any of this have to do with animal welfare? For this I should direct you towards another YouTube video:

For some reason, possibly because we still live in what is technically a theocracy, class matters in the United Kingdom’s politics. The conservatives are the party for the upper class, and the upper class like to go fox hunting. So despite the fact that fox hunting with hounds (note this terminology, because you won’t hear it in much of the media) has been banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act in 2004. In Scotland, similar legislation had been in place since 2002. The Conservatives wanted to relax this ban to allow foxes to be pursued by a pack of hounds, in essence to allow fox hunting as we think of it to happen again.

Although foxes in Scotland were never at risk (although our legislation is not without criticism), the SNP finally decided they would vote on this matter, and their vote would not be in favour of relaxing the ban. So we have a party which wants independence voting on an issue which does not affect their constituents (although their constituents have very strong feelings about the issue, because foxes are cute, presumably, or more cynically: because the average Scottish voter has no love of the aristocracy and hunting). And Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader, said the choice to vote on this issue was made, in part, to jerk the leash of the Conservative government and remind them how much power the SNP has.

Here’s the thing – it’s taken 600 words to summarise the political situation around this lack of a vote, but this is no victory for animal welfare. Nowhere in those 600 words do we consider the scientific evidence behind fox hunting. So here it is:

Hunting with hounds does not control fox populations (Rushton et al, 2006). In fact, fox numbers may increase (Lozano et al, 2013). Managing foxes as an agricultural pest needs to be done in a sustainable, long-term model covering large areas (McLeod et al, 2010). To top it off, farmers aren’t really convinced that foxes are an agricultural pest (Baker and Mcdonald, 2001) and only tolerate hunting-with-hounds that happens on their land. Pursuit hunting is not humane, and the method of death that hounds enact on hunting is not humane either. The ban is resisted because it is spoiling peoples’ fun (Marvin, 2007). Even though drag hunting is still supported and allowed, but somehow is less fun than smearing blood on one another.

We have no scientific evidence supporting fox hunting with hounds other than the fact that a very small, but very rich segment of the population want to do it occasionally and they’re slightly put out when they don’t get a chance. It’s not an effective pest control method and it’s not a humane death. Of all the issues to draw a line in the sand on, we’ve chosen one where a utilitarian would come to a clear conclusion after reviewing the scientific evidence. We’ve chosen an issue where it’s more important to posture about on what side of Hadrian’s Wall we come down on, than to review the scientific evidence.

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