Jim Fairlie MSP, Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity, faced accusations that his evidence was “anecdotal” and was pressed for the Government’s position instead of his own opinions

The Scottish Government is currently considering a ban on greyhound racing following a long-running petition and upcoming member’s Bill tabled by Mark Ruskell MSP. However, members of the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee were somewhat taken aback yesterday by the Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity appearing to place the opinions of himself and his friends above that of evidence presented through an extensive consultation process.

I have a friend who has rescued greyhounds over a number of years, and I contacted him and asked him what was the reality here in Scotland and he sent me this response:

“My greyhounds were all rescues, failed racers, however, I did race them with great success…the dogs love racing”

Jim Fairlie MSP

Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity

The Scottish Government recently ran an open consultation on greyhound racing, similar to that conducted in Wales, which saw an extensive list of submissions from organisations such as Dogs Trust, Blue Cross and RSPCA among many others. A number of these submissions contained conclusions drawn from extensive research that had been collected over a number of years, conducted by a range of experts in canine welfare.

In his statements to the committee, Mr Fairlie refused to say if the Scottish Government agreed with some of the evidence presented through the consultation process, in particular a report by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC).

Mr Fairlie went on to claim that greyhound racing was of great social importance to the community in Scotland, despite a raft of evidence to the contrary. Greyhound racing has been in long-term decline in Scotland with the only remaining track, Thornton Greyhound Stadium, at risk of closure due to lack of trade. Opinion polling continues to show greyhound racing as a minority interest pursuit, with only 13% of Scottish respondents considering the activity “important” to culture.

I just don’t want the Government to ban something that is part of the social fabric of that community on the basis of stuff that we haven’t fully explored

Jim Fairlie MSP

Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity

Perhaps most concerning was the fact that the Minister appeared to conflate his experience of working with herding dogs as a farmer with that of the issues faced by racing greyhounds. A recent report from the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC) showed that greyhounds in Scotland have worse health outcomes than other dogs, and that accommodation provided for them in Scotland “[does] not appear compatible with giving dogs a good quality of life”. In reference to this report, rather than speaking about racing greyhounds, the Minister stated his opinion based on personal experiences of owning working dogs.

They have been more than happy to live in kennels…I had no animal welfare concerns about any of my dogs or any of the conditions of any of my shepherd friends or farming friends.

Jim Fairlie MSP

Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity

Mark Ruskell MSP, who is currently leading the Proposed Prohibition of Greyhound Racing (Scotland) Bill, expressed his disappointment in the quality of the statement on X:

The campaign for a ban in Scotland continues with Mr Ruskell’s private members bill, which was recently the subject of a separate consultation, to which Greyhound Rescue Wales submitted evidence.

With a similar consultation process underway in Wales, greyhound advocates are watching the process in Scotland closely to see how evidence is being considered. Greyhound Rescue Wales CEO Tim Doyle says this is sadly an all-too-common occurence when it comes to animal welfare issues.

It is an unfortunate trope in the consideration of animal welfare matters that personal opinions and anecdotes are often allowed to override robust scientific evidence. It sets a worrying precedent when single-hand accounts can be stated by a government minister, on the public record, as representative of a whole issue. There must be sufficient rigour imposed on any evidence, regardless of the source, if it is used to form a legislative outcome.

We are glad that the Scottish Government is open to exploring further evidence on this and hope that the validity of evidence is given sufficient weighting in any subsequent decision making.

Tim Doyle

CEO, Greyhound Rescue Wales

Sources:

  • The Scottish Herald
  • Scottish Parliament Records
  • YouGov