The SNP has been challenged to underline its opposition to foxhunting across the UK as fresh video evidence alleges that half of Scotland’s hunts are breaking the law on hunting with dogs.
Since Scotland became the first part of the UK to ban traditional foxhunting and hare coursing in 2002, it has been illegal to hunt a wild mammal with a dog.
Hunts in Scotland can continue to kill foxes by practising an exemption to the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act called ‘flushing to guns’, which means using dogs to chase foxes from beneath cover in order to shoot them.
But covert video footage taken by the League Against Cruel Sports over a three month period apparently shows no practice of ‘flushing to guns’. The surveillance of five of Scotland’s 10 hunts suggests that they are routinely behaving as they did before the ban, with a complete absence of shotguns.
The footage, which will be presented to MSPs in Holyrood on Wednesday, shows dogs in full cry apparently following a scent and appearing to be encouraged to do so by members of the hunt. On two occasions dogs are seen following the line of a fox.
Scottish Labour’s cabinet secretary for rural affairs, Sarah Boyack, called on the Scottish government to fully investigate the League’s allegations.
“Foxhunting is a cruel pursuit and we need to know that Scottish ministers are serious about properly enforcing the law passed by the Scottish parliament to ban it.
“At the same time as enforcing the ban in Scotland, the SNP should underline its opposition to the practice across the UK by stating clearly its objection to any repeal of the law in England and Wales.”
The League is likewise calling on SNP MPs to be given a free vote on any repeal of Labour’s 2004 Hunting Act, which was promised in the Conservative manifesto.
Although traditionally SNP MPs do not vote on legislation that only affects England and Wales, both the party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Westminster leader Angus Robertson have hinted that they may be reconsidering this position.
Last week the Guardian revealed that SNP MPs are being lobbied by voters in the rest of the UK who are promising to holiday in Scotland and buy more whisky if they vote against the repeal of the hunting ban.
Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “Scotland led the way on legislating to ban hunting with dogs in the British Isles. We are calling on the Scottish government to lead the way once more and make two simple amendments to the law [to reduce the number of dogs used in flushing to guns to two and to add a clause outlawing reckless behaviour].
“These changes would make it extremely difficult for Scottish hunts to use cynical subterfuge to mask packs of hounds being encouraged to chase foxes and eventually kill them.”
But Jamie Stewart, Scotland director for the Countryside Alliance, disputed the nature of the footage, telling the Guardian: “Having viewed the footage, I am appalled that the League Against Cruel Sports is wasting the Scottish government’s time with what is at best subjective and at worst contrived.”
He insisted that there was no illegal activity shown in the filming, and that anti-hunting legislation worked well in Scotland. “The Act is robust and we have had 13 years of monitoring by animal welfare groups and Police Scotland without seeing the Scottish court system backed up with cases.”
Polling commissioned by the League from IPSOS Mori in March found that 84% of the Scottish public supported the foxhunting ban. But the same polling revealed that just over half believed that illegal foxhunting was still taking place in Scotland.