Sporting taxes and land reform: Scottish Government does not and will not listen to the rural voice, says Alex Stoddart
Have you ever overheard someone slandering you, and not recognised yourself as the person described? Ever felt persecuted by propaganda and misinformation? Welcome to fieldsports in modern Scotland. The Scottish Government has just published its new Land Reform Bill amid a zealous trumpeting of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ – let the land of Scotland benefit the many, not the few. Time to right the wrongs of the past and sort out those toffs with their big estates; let’s start with sporting rights – tax them, that’ll stop the posh people’s fun.
I’m a crofter’s son from the Hebrides. I’ve been a ghillie, stalker, fencing contractor, soldier and businessman. I’ve shot since the age of nine and fished for almost as long. Rod and rifle, terrier and shotgun – they are my way of life. But our nationalist/socialist government talks about me and my kin as though we are all privileged or, even worse, a “strategic threat” to national security by possessing firearms. I do not recognise their caricature of hunters and shooters. I reject the bigoted spin from a complicit media, swallowed by an audience of ignorant class warriors detached from reality.
I write this sitting at my office desk, on a small Highland estate that is owned and managed by a normal, salt-of-the-earth family who’ve grafted hard to get to where they are. I’m wondering who this ‘many’ is that ScotGov refers to as seeking to benefit from the woods, fields, open hill and bare rock of our estates. From the clean air, clear water, fertile soil and rich biodiversity that keeps us all alive, the ‘many’ are already benefiting. The shooting community in the UK does more for real world conservation than all the UK’s conservation charities combined. Sound environmental management forms the bedrock of all good sporting estates. ScotGov doesn’t listen.
Aside from environmental benefits for the masses, there are the economic and social benefits too. Estates employ keepers, shepherds and beaters. Related to these jobs are all the businesses serving shoots and shooters, or relying on shoot produce for their own income. There are whole communities based around one estate. Supporters of the reintroduction of sporting taxes ask why such people cannot find another job: “Move to the city, get a job at Tesco. It’s for the greater good.” It is hard to know how to approach such wilful stupidity. If these zealots get their way, we’ll be facing another clearance of the glens – this time, to make way for incompetent conservation charities, self-interested government agencies, renewable energy schemes and public-funded community ‘initiatives’. The land, the language and the people as we know them will be gone. ScotGov won’t listen.
However you decide to define a community – whether by postcode, geography, interest group – estates are community initiatives. They are tied to the land that created them and the people that depend on them. The land dictates what happens there; the local people are tied to the land use. So when shoots become unviable due to new taxes and lay-off their staff, what happens to the land and all the species dependent on management paid for by shooting folk like you and me? We know the answer. ScotGov should listen.
We are constantly engaged in a battle with bigotry and single-issue political agendas. The pastimes that form our way of life are a convenient football for politicians chasing the lazy urban vote. Yet our biggest threat is apathy within our community; the “someone else’ll do it” attitude that seems to prevail.
There’s a saying: the easiest way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. ScotGov knows that. But it seems, perhaps, we don’t.