MSPs debate greyhound racing in the Scottish Parliament

Last week, we headed to the Scottish Parliament to attend a debate on MSP Mark Ruskell’s motion on greyhound racing. This was an opportunity to put further pressure on the Scottish Government to end greyhound racing, amid recent progress and growing calls for a ban. All MSPs in attendance spoke passionately in support of an end to this cruel ‘sport'.

Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) kicked off the debate calling for a phased end to greyhound racing in Scotland

Mark Ruskell MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Mark Ruskell MSP started by thanking the campaigners and organisations that work tirelessly on greyhound welfare and rehoming across the UK, including OneKind. He welcomed the unanimous support for the motion, noting,

‘Few of my motions garner support from all corners of this chamber, but I was delighted to see strong cross-party support for this motion’.

Dwindling public support

He reflected on the public’s dwindling support for greyhound racing over the years, with tracks across the UK shutting down. This has particularly been the case in Scotland, with no licensed greyhound tracks currently in operation, while there were once 20. He noted that the only remaining track in Scotland is the unlicensed Thornton stadium in Fife, which is not required to meet the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) welfare standards.

He pointed out that regardless of the GBGB’s standards, current laws are inadequate to protect greyhounds from harm - with disjointed application, lack of transparency and concerns around enforcement of standards.

Phase out within 5 years

He proposed a phase out of greyhound racing within 5 years, partly to allow animal welfare organisations to plan and prepare for the rehoming of animals. This phased end to greyhound racing was recently publicly supported by leading UK animal welfare charities Dogs Trust, The Blue Cross and RSPCA.

Noting that the previous Government put an end to the use of wild animals in circuses when the practice was dwindling, he highlighted the similar situation now with greyhound racing - both being declining practices that exploit animals for entertainment.

Ruth Maguire (SNP) reflected on the ‘jaw-dropping’ animal welfare concerns linked to greyhound racing

Ruth Maguire MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Ruth Maguire MSP called for an end to the racing of greyhounds, who are ‘being treated as commodities, dumped and discarded when they are no longer useful’ to the industry.

She then went on to list the many welfare concerns facing raced greyhounds including neglect, malnutrition, doping, unaccounted-for puppies, as well as severe and fatal injuries.

Referring to the heatwaves experienced across the UK earlier this year, she also expressed concern for greyhounds being forced to race in extreme heat.

The MSP stated powerfully that:

One death of an animal for human entertainment is one too many.

Sadly, the loss of life is significantly more, with Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) data revealing that 1,000 dogs were killed on tracks over a 5-year period.

She concluded by commending organisations and campaigners for their work and those who rehome these dogs and give them the wonderful life that they deserve.

Annie Wells (Conservative) highlighted the inadequacies of industry regulation

Annie Wells MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Annie Wells MSP pointed to the lack of regulation at the unlicenced Thornton stadium, and existence of ‘glaring issues’ in the wider greyhound racing industry, despite efforts to improve conditions for the dogs.

Reflecting on the scale of suffering in greyhound racing, she noted that 22,000 injuries to raced greyhounds have been recorded since 2017. She also shared that she has witnessed first-hand the awful injuries that these dogs endure.

She then went on to encourage those looking to welcome a dog into their home to consider adopting a rescued greyhound.

Christine Grahame (SNP) explained that greyhound racing is incompatible with our more progressive society

Christine Grahame MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Christine Grahame MSP supported the points previously made, and thanked OneKind and other organisations for their briefings on greyhound racing.

She too pointed to the serious animal welfare issues of the racing industry, with ‘too many’ dogs ‘drugged, injured or put down’, in the name of entertainment. She then went on highlight that greyhound racing is a relic of society’s more outdated attitudes towards animals in the past.

Once greyhound racing was a working man’s sport that was favoured particularly in mining communities, but we have moved on in respect of the way that we view animals. We have regard for their sentience, therefore we have a deeper responsibility for our demands on them.

Rona MacKay (SNP) strongly condemns greyhound racing

Rona MacKay MSP opened by stating her strong opposition to greyhound racing:

I am not going to mince my words: greyhound racing is barbaric. It is the exploitation of beautiful dogs purely to make money, and I absolutely abhor it.

Rona MacKay MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

She also expressed her abhorrence for the industry’s exploitation of animals for monetary gain, highlighting that, ‘Animals are not a product or a commodity to be used for human entertainment.’

Referring to the scale of harm to raced greyhounds, she described the number of recorded injuries and deaths linked to greyhound racing as ‘sickening.’ She went on to urge for the immediate closure of the unregulated Thornton stadium, where there are no records kept of the number of individuals lost or injured on the track.

She then stressed that despite being just as sentient as other dogs, greyhounds are treated with double standards and are ‘wasted’ by the racing industry.

Colin Smyth (Labour) states that regulation of greyhound racing simply hasn’t worked

Colin Smyth MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Colin Smyth MSP called for a ban on greyhound racing, noting that the industry is consistently failing to bring about meaningful improvements. He criticised the argument that the industry will come to a natural end by itself, questioning how much more loss of life, injury and cruelty there would be in the meantime.

He commented that the petition to end greyhound racing led by Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation garnered over 13,000 signatures – making it the 5th most signed petition in the history of the Scottish Parliament.

Emma Harper (SNP)

Emma Harper MSP reflected on the global and local decline in the industry, with greyhound racing legal in just 7 countries in the world, and only one operational track remaining in Scotland.

Emma Harper MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Stressing the need to allow for the rehoming of raced greyhounds, she called for a phased end to greyhound racing. Considering the high number of injuries, deaths, positive drug tests, as well as lack of public support, she urged for legislative change to end this ‘use of animals for human entertainment and gambling profit.’

She stated that when it comes to ending greyhound racing in Scotland, it shouldn't be a matter of 'if', but rather 'when'.

The Scottish Government’s response

At the end of the debate, Minister for Environment and Land Reform, Màiri McAllan, responded to the debate on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The Minister acknowledged that greyhounds are intelligent, affectionate and gentle animals and that the mistreatment of animals in Scotland is completely unacceptable. She thanked the many animal welfare organisations, including OneKind, grassroots organisations, MSPs and the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission for their views on the issue.

She went on to express concern at the reports of greyhound injuries and deaths, particularly at Shawfield Stadium. The Minister then detailed the potential fines and length of prosecution for those convicted of greyhound mistreatment under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, amended in 2020.

Minister for Environment and Land Reform Mairi McAllan  MSP speaking at the Scottish Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Disappointingly, the Minister did not announce Scottish Government support for a ban, despite the many animal welfare organisations, grassroots organisations and MSPs calling for an end to greyhound racing.

However, she did note that the Scottish Government are awaiting comments from the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission and Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee on greyhound racing and that these will be taken into consideration.

The Minister went on to confirm that the extension of the licensing legislation consultation will include the activities of the greyhound industry. Should this happen, it could effectively bring an end to greyhound racing in Scotland, if Thornton stadium did not meet licensing requirements. However, in absence of a full ban, there would be a risk that greyhound racing could recommence should the track eventually meet licensing requirements.

Supporting Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation’s rally outside the Parliament

Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation's rally after the Parliament debate on greyhound racing

Following the debate, a rally in support of an end to greyhound racing took place outside the Parliament, organised by Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation. We attended the rally, alongside campaigners, MSPs, supportive members of the public and their rescued greyhound companions, who have experienced first-hand the cruelty of the racing industry.

Seeing these individuals was both a reminder of the heartbreaking impact of greyhound racing and the inspiring work being done by individuals and organisations to rehabilitate and re-home them.

Impact for greyhounds

While the Scottish Government has yet to announce a ban on greyhound racing, both the Parliament debate and rally have provided more hope for greyhounds, kept the pressure on the Government, and raised public awareness about this urgent issue.

A rescued greyhound

This follows a number of positive developments in the last couple of years. Just last month, we celebrated the news that the former greyhound racing track, Shawfield stadium, is set to be demolished. We were also recently delighted to see leading UK animal welfare organisations RSPCA, Dogs Trust and Blue Cross release statements in support of an end to greyhound racing, for the first time.

We will keep campaigning for a full ban on greyhound racing, and supporting the amazing work being done by grassroots organisations to end the exploitation of these individuals.