There has been a fair bit of news about foxhunting recently, and never having been on a foxhunt in my life, it is not my specialist subject at all. But I do think that, to get the bottom of it, you really need to start with the bilbys.
Everybody eats a lot of chocolate at Easter. Except for me. Chocolate is contrary to my diet these days. Anyway, chocolate being a rather heavy, man-made sort of a thing, people like to balance the Easter message with something more natural, and small and cute and cuddly. In Europe, they use rabbits. Small rabbits. Bunnies, in other words. But here in Australia, rabbits are a huge pest, and get a very bad press. Anyway, Australians want their own small cute and cuddly animal as their Easter animal. Step up the bilby. It is small, cute and above all it is Australian.
Unhappily, animals like the Bilby are under some threat, and the threat includes the feral cat. According to the government here, there are some 20 million feral cats in Australia, and every day, it is estimated that they kill some 75 million bilbys and other cute Australian animals. That seems a lot to me – the best part of 4 cute animals per day for every feral cat. Anyway, I have no way of checking whether this estimate is right. So the government want to kill at least 2 million cats as soon as possible.
Which do we care for more? The cats or the bilbys? It is not like for like. If one cat kills four bilbys a day, that’s going to be about 15,000 bilbys over the cat’s life. So which do we care for more? One cat, or 15,000 bilbys? They won’t all be bilbys of course; presumably the cats have a more varied diet including possums, parrots and so forth. But we are talking about 15,000 of something which might be as cute as a bilby, or might not be. Hmm.
Okay, so it’s change the equation from feral cats to foxes. They both look quite cute. But they are both actually pretty vicious little bastards, who each kill a lot of other animals. So which to be care for more? One Fox, or thousands of other animals which might include mice, wild birds, domestic chickens, some of which are cute, and some of which might not be?
So the moral case is rather more complicated than it might appear. Let us suppose that it really is necessary for the health of the countryside in England for the fox population to be kept under control. That means that some foxes have to be killed. Which is better: poisoning them, which is not a pleasant, shooting them, which is not very pleasant either, or chasing after them with a pack of dogs, which is ditto. I don’t know; I have never been a foxhunt and for that matter, I’ve never woken up in the morning to find that all of my domestic chickens have been mauled to death by a fox in a pointless orgy of bloodlust. But I’m pretty sure that the majority of the city dwellers who are opposed to foxhunting have no idea about these things either.
The ban on hunting foxes with dogs was introduced in England by the government of Tony Blair, who has since admitted that the ban was a mistake, saying
I think yes on balance it was in the end. It’s not that I particularly like hunting or have ever engaged in it or would. I didn’t quite understand, and I reproach myself for this, that for a group of people in our society in the countryside this was a fundamental part of their way of life…not one of my finest policy moments.
But the ban in England did not prevent people from shooting foxes, and if you go out with a gun to shoot foxes, you’re allowed to take Rover with you. But not Rover and Fido. Oh no. Only one dog.
In Scotland it’s different. They’re allowed to shoot foxes as well, but in Scotland, you’re allowed to take McRover, and McFido, and indeed as many dogs as you like. In Scotland, all of this is a devolved power, so the SNP have absolute control over the issue.
The SNP also get a vote on the issue about how foxes can be controlled in England. There are people who say that it would be a good idea if legislation that affects only England should be voted on by the English MPs, and that the Scottish MPs should keep their noses out. Changing the laws about hunting foxes in England would be a classic example – these laws don’t apply to Scotland.
Enter Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP. In a pointless orgy of bloodlust, she mobilised her troops to prevent the government in Westminster from bringing the law of England into line with the law of Scotland. It is worth saying this again, just to emphasise how particularly objectionable this is. The SNP can have no legitimate interest whatsoever in laws which affect only England. Even if they did, what conceivable sense is there in saying that foxes in England have to be treated differently from foxes in Scotland? The SNP could easily change the law in Scotland at any time chose, but has not done so.
So like the feral cat, and the fox, the Sturgeon looks cute, but in reality is a vicious little creature. I’m not saying, of course, that within a few generations, these Sturgeons might not be trained. After all, there is a place in Siberia where they have been selectively breeding foxes in order to produce cute and cuddly foxes, and by killing all the most unpleasant foxes and breeding from the rest, they have managed not all that many generations to produce foxes which are really quite domesticated, and will sit on your lap without trying to tear your throat out. Likewise, there might well be little Sturgeons in a few generations time who will be perfectly civilised, and who will shudder in horror at the notion that great-grandgranny Nicola was allowed to roam free.
Like Tony Blair, I will not be taking up foxhunting any time soon. But I do think it would be a good idea if we were to leave the issue to people whom actually live in the countryside, rather than imposing half-baked anthropomorphic nonsense.