SCOTLAND HELD its first ever Animal Welfare Hustings – and possibly the first of its kind anywhere in the UK - in Stirling last Monday evening.
Animal welfare in Scotland is controlled by the Scottish Parliament and, in the run up to the Scottish Parliament elections on May 3, leading candidates agreed to spend some campaigning time listening to public views on animal welfare issues. Hustings organisers, the Scottish SPCA and Advocates for Animals called on members of the public to turn out for the event.
The hustings took place at the Lesser Albert Hall in Stirling and were chaired by international animal welfare expert Dr Michael Appleby of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, (WSPA). MSPs and prospective MSPs who attended on the night were Fergus Wood (SNP) who is a supporter of Border Collie Welfare, Ian Brown (Lib Dem), Sylvia Jackson (Labour), Mark Ballard (Green Party) and Peter Lyburn (Conservative).
Animal welfare has been a key issue for many of the parties involved in the Scottish elections. Three of the parties contesting seats – the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Socialists – all devoted sections of their election manifestos to animal welfare issues, whilst several of the other parties’ manifestos contained references to better protection for wildlife and farm animals.
Recent animal welfare issues which have been at the forefront of public debate in Scotland include tail docking, snaring, puppy dealing, intensive farming and animals in circuses, and the public were invited to question the speakers on these and any other animal related topics. The event provided a platform for the public to help get the animal welfare issues close to their hearts onto the political agenda.
The evening got under way with a full house, indicating the sheer strength of public feeling for animal welfare issues. Topics that were raised and discussed included issues such as snaring and farming procedures, whilst companion animals took up a great part of the debate.
Members of the public suggested that there should be some kind of licence for pet owners to prove they were worthy to keep animals, along with better humane education on animals and their needs to be taught in school and to adults. All of these points were debated carefully and most of the speakers were in favour of better education.
A point was raised from the floor that whilst voluntary animal welfare organisations such as the SSPCA and Advocates For Animals were very channels for such public education, the Scottish Executive should not rely on them and should provide funding to get the message across. This suggestion was greeted with a huge round of applause and broad agreement.
Libby Anderson, Political Director, Advocates for Animals, told OUR DOGS: ‘The whole event was very positive and it was heartening to see so many people in attendance, proving that animal welfare is a key issue of concern to the electorate in Scotland. It was also very pleasing to see representatives from the political parties taking a keen interest in animal welfare issues and engaging with the public on this level. And that can only be good for the way policies develop in the Scottish Parliament and local authorities after the elections.’
When the meeting concluded after nearly two hours, a final question was asked from the floor which summed up the depth of feeling and positive attitudes involved: ‘When can we have another meeting like this one?’
Animal welfare and pet ownership in general is clearly a strong issue in the minds of voters – perhaps MPs in the political parties at Westminster – and indeed in local councils across the UK – would do well to take this point on board.
Perhaps by the time the next General Election comes round, voters will have the chance to ask prospective MPs similar questions and emulate the excellent example being set in Scotland.