You may remember that it was a petition that started the Rural Affairs and Islands committee’s inquiry into greyhound racing. Lodged by Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation (SAGE), the petition called for an end to greyhound racing in Scotland, and is the most signed petition in the history of the Scottish Parliament, with 28,631 signatures at the time of writing.

Previously the committee has heard evidence from SAGE, animal welfare organisations, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC), industry representatives and Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) trainers. Yesterday the Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity, Jim Fairlie, answered the questions of the committee on the Scottish Government’s response and position. Committee members from all political parties had many insightful comments and questions for the Minister.

Scottish Government is undecided

Thornton greyhound race track

The Minister began by saying that he has not yet decided how to proceed, but that he is not convinced that a ban on greyhound racing is proportionate. He said that he thinks that racing at the unlicensed Thornton stadium (pictured), Scotland’s only remaining track, is very different from the GBGB tracks – that it is pastime, the dogs are family pets, and that there isn’t the same intensity, high stakes betting, professionalism, and requirement and determination for dogs to run as there is at ‘professional’ tracks. 

The Scottish Government consulted last year on its proposal to licence greyhound racing instead of banning it. The Minister said yesterday that he is still considering that option but hasn’t made any decisions.

The inherent risk of racing

Mark Ruskell MSP questioned the Minister’s assertion that Thornton was fundamentally different, and asked what the difference was for the dogs? Were they at less risk of injury? The Minister acknowledged that there wasn’t any difference for the dogs but said that the owner’s attitudes were different and implied that would mean less pressure on the dogs. There is no evidence to support this claim, that we know of, but this is the Minister’s impression.

He also said that he thought that it was inappropriate to focus so much on the inherent risk because every activity carries some level of risk. He made comparisons with working dogs such as sheepdogs. As far as we are aware, there is no evidence to suggest that working dogs suffer from specific injuries related to that activity, occurring at higher rates than amongst other dogs, as do greyhounds, so the comparison isn’t particularly relevant.

Elena Whitham MSP asked the Minister if he agreed with the SAWC that dogs that are bred for greyhound racing have poorer welfare than the average of other dogs. The Convenor pushed the Minister for a definitive answer but he said he couldn’t answer that.

It is worrying that the Minister was emphasising a letter from his friend who has greyhounds and has raced them, more than the published death and injury statistics and the report of the SAWC, an advisory body to the Scottish Government.

Licensing won’t protect greyhounds

Greyhounds racing

Finlay Carson MSP asked what the Minister his opinion on what level of suffering would be considered proportionate in greyhound racing. Andrew Voas, veterinary head of animal welfare, replied and said that, as greyhound racing is currently legal and so considered a legitimate activity, anything happening in the normal course of greyhound racing would not be considered ‘unnecessary suffering’ under current legislation and so could not be considered an offence. As Scottish SPCA and others have pointed out repeatedly, this is the reason that the current legislation is not sufficient to protect raced greyhounds and a ban is needed.

The Minister said that the aim behind a potential licensing scheme would be to alleviate people’s concerns, and to bring external scrutiny and gather the injury and death figures from non-GBGB tracks, to provide the evidence that he thinks is currently lacking to justify a ban.

There is already death and injury data from other tracks, and the Minister said that the Scottish Government agrees that those numbers are unacceptable. Unlike the Minister, we see no reason to think that they would be lower at an unlicensed track. Licensing would be legitimising an activity that risks greyhounds’ health and wellbeing and could facilitate the possibility of other tracks opening in Scotland in the future.


Greyhound with trainer

Alasdair Allan MSP asked about the possible social benefits for people involved in greyhound racing, and how that should be balanced against animal welfare. The Minister said that he thought that the balance was currently right. We disagree, the risks posed to raced greyhounds cannot be justified by some level of social benefit.

Alasdair also asked whether society and charities should be required to bear the cost of finding homes for ex-racing greyhounds, as is currently the case, and the Minister said that he took that point.

Emma Roddick MSP asked if it wouldn’t be better to prevent any other tracks opening in Scotland, as recommended by SAWC, as it is much easier to prevent something than try to stop it once it has already begun.

Mark Ruskell asked about the weight given to public opinion, and pointed out that when the use of wild animals in travelling circuses was banned it wasn’t happening much or affecting large numbers of animals but was banned due to the strong public support for ending a practice that causes suffering.

What is considered proportionate should not only focus on the number of animals involved. Every animal matters and government policy should protect those animals and reflect the public desire to end practices that cause them harm.

What next?

Greyhound standing panting

The consultation on the Proposed Prohibition of Greyhound Racing (Scotland) Bill received nearly 800 responses. Those are currently being analysed and will help inform the Bill. Additionally, we gathered additional 9,505 pledges in support of the Bill. We will continue to work with Unbound the Greyhound partners to support this Bill and convince MSPs and the Scottish Government to do likewise.