Last Saturday marked the last day of the lowland game season, which should give us all a much-needed breather to reflect on the four or five months just gone.
On Friday evening, BASC Scotland took the chance to mull over a year of political progression which has seen the publication of two major reports into grouse and deer management. It goes without saying that political engagement has never been more important.
The end of the shooting season is therefore a tale of two halves: on the one hand it is a cause for celebration about past times; and on the other it is an opportunity to think carefully about how we might influence the future.
With this in mind, I invited local MSP and Deputy First Minister of Scotland, John Swinney, along with local MP, Pete Wishart, to join BASC Scotland at a celebratory dinner. The plan was to have relaxed, open and frank discussions at an independent Perthshire business about the pertinent issues, all while eating the very things at the heart of the debates – game and venison.
The evening was a resounding success for us, and a key opportunity to make the voice of our membership heard. Both John and Pete represent vast rural constituencies in which shooting plays a pivotal part – they recognise it is their duty to hear the views of our membership, even if they do not agree on everything we say.
On completion of the dinner, we took a quick photo and said goodbye to Pete and John – who headed into Perth for an event marking the UK’s departure from the European Union. Pete subsequently posted the following innocuous tweet on twitter.Friday
The backlash that followed was extraordinary, stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding about BASC and the contribution of the wider shooting community in Scotland. Let’s look at some of the most prolifically misinformed assertions.
One of the most astounding appeared to present a clear libel – a slur on the reputation of BASC and the wider shooting community – and we are not now at liberty to discuss it further here as we have sought advice and would not wish to prejudice any legal action. Suffice to say, BASC will always defend shooting’s game name.
But for those who wish to sling spurious misinformation, they should perhaps take time to read the Langholm report – a comprehensive study which rigorously highlighted the benefits of grouse moor management. When rhetoric appears to win the day on social media, it would perhaps not suit the agenda of those against us to even remotely acknowledge that upland management can sustain threatened species and safeguard internationally rare ecosystems.
In other tweets, Pete and John were accused of being ‘in bed’ with BASC – another utterly ludicrous suggestion. My colleagues and I discussed our concerns with Pete and John over a dinner which championed the very thing at the heart of our discussions. It was a legitimate and sensible discussion about issues on which MSPs and MPs should have an opinion.
The reality is that some of the people who railed against this meeting so furiously on Twitter would prefer for BASC to be silenced than have discussions with the SNP.
The above tweet from Scottish Green Party MSP, Andy Wightman, is an interesting one. He makes an important point about politicians meeting with organisations of all persuasions, not just those they agree with. This is a critically important point for reasons that I will expand on shortly. But for now, I just want to unequivocally call out a blatant lie that features in this tweet: John and Pete did not drink wine.
This was not an alcohol-fuelled party. It was a civilised, professional dinner in which we as an organisation made our views known, and in which the politicians got to ask relevant questions about said views. Nothing more, nothing less.
Perhaps the most concerning thing about the backlash to Pete’s tweet was the sheer number of individuals proclaiming their distain and disgust about the notion of SNP politicians even contemplating meeting with BASC. In their view, we do not deserve to have our voice heard. Why? Because our views differ to that of theirs.
The ramifications of such a narrow-minded, toxic outlook are severe. The below exchange between John MacPherson and Pete explains why.
The product of such an outlook is alienation. Alienation of individuals and organisations – and in some cases, entire communities and professions. Politically, this can spell the loss of votes and even seats – something that the SNP experienced first-hand in the 2017 general election.
If a political party is to be successful, they must be prepared to listen to views from all quarters. Scotland is a unique place with a diversity of interests – conflict is inevitable. But it is the consolidation of views from all quarters that results in effective political decision making, and this is something that Pete Wishart, John Swinney and other senior members of the SNP unequivocally understand. Long may this understanding continue.