Scots pride themselves on being animal lovers yet animal welfare was, as usual, largely absent from the public debate prior to the recent Holyrood elections.
Mahatma Gandhi always included animals in his teachings, stating: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
In Scotland there are over 25 million farm animals and pets alone, as well as millions of wild animals. We are seeing an increasing “commoditisation” in our society, and in response to this, we in the Animal Welfare Party campaign for a fairer society in which the needs of people, animals and the environment are much better balanced. In respect of animals, we advocate progressive policies that protect all animals in our society. We also seek to phase out the use of animals in invasive scientific research and zoos, and the sale of foie gras and fur.
The Holyrood elections provided the very first opportunity for the Scottish electorate to vote for the AWP in the Glasgow regional list, and we were delighted with the 0.7 per cent of the vote that we received. We’re also very proud of the 1 per cent we got on the same day in the London-wide Assembly elections .
We are part of a global movement and there are now over 15 political parties for animals worldwide. In the Netherlands, the highly successful Party for the Animals (PvdD), upon which our own party is modelled, have over 20 elected representatives at various levels of government including two senators, two MPs and one MEP. Germany also has a dedicated representative for animals in the EU Parliament, while the equivalent parties of both Portugal and Australia have representatives in their national decision-making bodies.
If we were to begin creating a fairer society for animals, where might we start?
More effective enforcement of existing legislation would be an early priority. Only around 100 convictions for animal cruelty are secured each year in Scotland, despite the number of reported incidents being far in excess of one hundred thousand – the unpalatable truth which this conveys is that substantial animal cruelty is a routine occurrence in our society but those behind it are rarely brought to justice.
We might also look to tackle unnecessary cruelty in the slaughter of animals. Recent undercover investigations by Animal Aid revealed atrocious treatment in nine out of ten British slaughterhouses. Despite overwhelming support by the public, the Scottish parliament has yet to make compulsory the installation of independently monitored CCTV cameras which would help prevent such abuse.
We also need to tackle our overdependence on meat and dairy products – unsustainable in almost every respect. Not only would steps towards eating more plant-based foods improve human health and save NHS resources, it would benefit the planet more than almost any other lifestyle change we could make. Livestock production is the cause of serious environmental problems, and in particular greenhouse gas emissions from this industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change.
The protection of animals should be fundamental in any society that calls itself progressive, but it depends on our government to provide the legislation, regulation and resources to make it happen. For that reason, animal welfare should be a mainstream politics issue in Scotland with dedicated parliamentary presence.
• Dr Andrew Orr stood for AWP in the Glasgow Region at the Scottish Parliamentary elections