A SCOTLAND that wholly reflects the values of the Scottish people is certainly one of the main points of desire for independence.

If we could stop having to compromise on decisions, and implement fully what we want from the voter to Parliament and into law, with all powers in our gift, imagine what we could achieve.

Perhaps it’s a subject for a later column, but I would certainly like to see drug reform as a national discussion, as I think there is a case for decriminalisation, if not full legalisation. I would love to even have that debate on the agenda, but we must wrestle an extremely hard-to-tackle issue within the bounds of UK law which I don’t think reflects the needs or even wants of the Scottish people.

Scotland has for decades now chosen a more socially just path at elections, particularly in comparison to the rest of the UK – more left-leaning, some would say.

We are a country which has leapt forward in political awareness since the 2014 referendum, especially with our young people, who are much more engaged than my peers and I ever were at their age. We see with their voting intentions how this is accelerating a movement towards more progressive policies.

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One such area of progression is animal welfare. We have a population that is majorly against any kind of blood sports and I know this directly due to the recent bill I worked on within my remit on the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee.

We took evidence from stakeholders and many other groups and organisations, and of course, called for views from the public.

In terms of engagement, I was approached more regarding the Hunting with Dogs Bill than I was for gender recognition reform (GRR), and we also had many more amendments lodged to the bill at Stage Two at more than 250.

This was a much more heated and contested subject than GRR, although it didn’t garner the attention of the media as much.

I welcomed this bill and the restrictions it placed on those who may seek to wriggle through loopholes to continue with a practice which frankly places a black mark on any attempts to call our society “civil”.

With the knowledge and understanding that we have and the advancements we have made in society, it is right and proper that moving forward in a fairer society for all – including our animals – we ban and restrict the killing of wild animals by packs of dogs.

Surely we can agree that exerting force, power and control over a vulnerable animal which causes distress, terror, and pain to them purely for sport is barbaric and cruel, and must have no place in modern-day Scotland.

I do of course appreciate that pest control is a necessary evil. This is something which, having lived in the countryside for many years, I understand. Any discussion with rural communities reveals that it isn’t something most enjoy having to enforce, it is certainly no sport for many of them.

I stress that I use the word “pest” with a heavy caveat – the animals are very often pests in relation to actions considered detrimental to our human needs and interference, and they are not inherently pests in themselves. I am sure we humans are the bigger pests on this planet.

Throughout committee evidence sessions, there has been a clear distinction between the understanding of what is meant by sport and what is meant by pest control throughout the deliberations. We took evidence which was clear and concise in that regard.

In some circumstances, more than two dogs may be needed for pest control. Therefore, I welcome the provisions in the bill, in the form of a licence for this need. I am satisfied that Environment Minister Mairi McAllan, in discussion with her officials and NatureScot, will bring forward a licensing scheme that is workable for those who need it.

The minister has been fair and balanced in her approach to all stakeholders – I witnessed this very clearly throughout the committee with her commitment to work with all of those invested in the bill to ensure the licensing scheme was fit for purpose.

The National: The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill was passed by 90 votes to 30 by the Scottish ParliamentThe Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill was passed by 90 votes to 30 by the Scottish Parliament

During the Stage Three debate, we heard graphic details of foxes’ eating habits – and yes of course it does indeed sound horrific – and I have full sympathy with any animal suffering this kind of fate.

I would have to say, however, that I don’t find those descriptions helpful to put the fox in any kind of savage light, as I am sure anyone who has ever watched a nature documentary with animals hunting and killing food gets the picture.

There’s no need to villainise an animal acting on instinct to feed itself and any young it’s rearing.

That’s the sometimes harsh reality of our natural environment. It’s not easy at all for a farmer to see his lambs attacked in this way, but I place trust in our farmers to deal with this issue in the most respectful and humane way possible.

I was asked this question: “Does a fox or other mammal hunted (as defined in the bill) have a different welfare experience based on the reason why it is hunted, or whether the activity is part of a scheme?”

Perhaps not – we may never know the true depth or not of an animal’s sentience, their thoughts, and how they view various situations – but surely that onus is on us, as stewards, to protect the most vulnerable regardless if they can speak or understand what is happening to them. The bill is for humans to follow and to lead the way in respect for all creatures.

I am proud of the Scotland we are – progressive and inherently kind.

We have the potential to be world-leading in many areas, I just hope that more than 50% of us can realise that potential and vote for more of it when the time comes to choose independence.