Election analysis: a new Scottish Government

Ross Ewing

Ross Ewing

Ross is BASC’s Public Affairs Manager in Scotland. He is a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews and his shooting interests include lowland game shooting, clay pigeon shooting and deer stalking. Ross has been embroiled in the debates surrounding shoot licensing since university where he wrote a dissertation on attitudes towards licensing driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

The fourth victory

They’re calling it a historic victory.

The SNP have just won their fourth consecutive Scottish Parliament election, and will have governed Scotland for 19 years by the end of this parliament. The party’s enduring popularity is something to behold.

But the SNP’s election success will be met with varying views by those living and working in rural Scotland.

Over the last five years there has been growing disquiet about the implications of some of the legislation being passed at Holyrood, and many will look upon this SNP win with a degree of nervousness and unease.

Will shooting emerge intact at the end of this parliamentary term? Well, that remains to be seen.

More minority politics?

The foremost contention is about numbers and majority-minority politics.

The SNP won 64 of the Scottish Parliament’s 129 seats – just one short of an outright majority – and will rely on support from other parties to pass legislation. This means minority politics is here to stay, at least for another five years.

Now, as in the previous parliamentary session, the required support is likely to come from the Scottish Greens, whose agenda is also predicated on supporting Scottish independence.

Unfortunately, the Greens are also intent on bringing about an end to ‘bloodsports’ – their words, not mine – which will have obvious ramifications for shooting as we know it. But are they likely to get what they want?

The truth is that we don’t really know. Concessions will inevitably be granted in exchange for votes, but what they will be and where they will emerge is anyone’s guess at this stage.

But the shooting community should take some comfort from the fact that the Greens’ agenda is more expansive than it ever has been, and they have a number of competing priorities that span the full range of cabinet portfolios.

They may opt to secure their concessions on other important issues such as transitioning away from oil and gas – a key feature in their election campaign and highly topical in the context of COP26.

And we should also take some comfort in the knowledge that Alison Johnstone MSP – arguably the principal architect behind the Greens’ past-agenda against field sports – has been elected as the next presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament.

Many may be wondering how this could be construed as good news. After all, will it not give her more power over parliamentary business?

While this is true – and certainly something we must be mindful of – it is also the case that Ms Johnstone has been absolved of her party responsibilities, and by extension her pursuit of any campaigns she was intending to front or lead in the parliament.

She was, without doubt, a formidable force within the Scottish Green Party, and her election as the presiding officer means she is required to be nonpartisan – for now.

Although we have not traditionally seen eye to eye with the Greens, it is important to note that we will be doubling our efforts to constructively engage with them in this parliamentary term.

There will inevitably be some common ground, and it is incumbent on us to find it – and capitalise on it – as best we can.  

A new government

And so to the new government, and a plethora of newly-appointed cabinet secretaries and ministers.

It is with regret that we say goodbye to former cabinet secretary for the rural economy and tourism, Fergus Ewing MSP.

Fergus has been a staunch supporter of country sports, and is a respected figure across rural Scotland.

His capacity to engage with stakeholders was, in my view, unrivalled. He consistently fought for country sports – most recently allocating £1M to help offset the impacts of coronavirus on sporting businesses.

He’ll be sorely missed in government, and we would like to wish him well as he continues to serve as the constituency MSP for Inverness and Nairn.  

His replacement, Mairi Gougeon MSP, takes on a modified portfolio as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Mairi had been tipped as a potential cabinet secretary, having served in two ministerial positions since 2018.  

She is no stranger to rural affairs, having previously been the rural affairs and natural environment minister while also representing the rural constituency of Angus North and Mearns.

I have spoken with Mairi a handful of times since I joined BASC in August 2019, but I have to say that I always found her to be sincere, engaging and understanding. We look forward to meeting with her again in due course.

The other key cabinet position from our perspective is the new junior minister for the environment, biodiversity and land reform.

Màiri McAllan MSP – a former special advisor to the First Minister – will take up the role, and is the only newly-elected MSP to be appointed to a ministerial position other than the veteran politician, Angus Robertson MSP.

I met with Màiri during the election campaign, and was really encouraged by how knowledgeable she was across a diversity of issues from protecting rural workers to deer management.

In my view she is a real asset to the Scottish Government, and we are looking forward to working closely with her in the weeks and months ahead.

What should we expect to see in this parliament?

The SNP’s manifesto gives us a fairly clear insight as to what to expect in this session of the Scottish Parliament.

Implementing the recommendations of the deer working group report and licensing driven grouse shooting are likely to be key priorities, along with closing loopholes in the law that permit dogs to be used to control foxes. The animal welfare act is also likely to get updated.

Wider issues surrounding land reform – which is expected to be the subject of a new bill – could also have an impact.

Although these intentions may sound worrisome, we trust that the Scottish Government will ensure that BASC and other representative organisations are given the opportunity to shape the direction of travel.

It is not yet clear which politicians will oversee these commitments, but I would hazard a guess that Màiri McAllan (the junior minister) will likely be responsible for the majority.  

We will work constructively with the government as policies are brought forward, and will ensure ministers are fully briefed about concerns and ideas from BASC members and the wider shooting community.

A renewed opportunity

In summary, I believe that the election of a new government provides Scotland’s shooting community with a renewed opportunity.

Fresh faces and the creation of new roles represents a clean slate of sorts – a revitalised opportunity to set out our case in a persuasive, constructive way and to bring bright ideas to the fore.

The shooting community has a great deal to offer the Scottish Government. We will work hard to ensure that this potential is recognised as the new parliamentary session gets underway. 

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