Fox-manglers rally for the tally-ho debate

ANYONE seeing the clowns and freaks on the Royal Mile yesterday might have thought the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was still in progress.

Coming out of the parliament into the pouring rain, I saw one man with a tweed jacket that had just been declared a World Heritage site. Another bird looked so posh, tourists thought she must be the Queen.

The fox-manglers had come to town. Red-faced loons from the Planet Yoiks, where streets are paved with giblets, walked around on bandy legs, pointing at buses and other marvels of modern civilisation.

Most folk are fed up with hunting, probably thinking it had been banned already. However, the debate has been artificially sustained by the parliament’s bumpkin-dominated rural development committee and by the press.

No one need be surprised by the latter. Newspapers naturally tend towards the dark side. All you ever hear on this subject is a comically unbalanced consensus that cruelty is the new kindness.

The same stuff was trotted out by the usual suspects in the chamber yesterday. Mike Watson (Lab), proposer of the bill to ban the frightful hobby, seemed heartily tired of it, though he animated proceedings by giving Alex Johnstone (Con), former Conservative chairman of the rural development mob, a good going-over for his alleged partiality.

Mr Johnstone, a bovine individual with a crewcut, sat chewing his fodder and looking incapable of any such manoeuvring, or indeed of sentient thought.

Alex Fergusson (Con), the new unimproved chairman, said significantly that the committee had found it necessary to establish what "cruelty" meant. He suggested it was all relative. This is true. One man’s mauling with dogs is another man’s pain in the neck.

Alex Neil (SNP) tried establishing his credentials by claiming to be a country boy from a village in South Ayrshire. The confession was greeted by tittering. Detecting the titterer-in-chief, Alex said Frank McAveety (Lab) was equally qualified to speak, hailing as he did from the crushed chocolate-box village of Glasgow.

A windmilling of arms signalled that Murray Tosh (Con) wanted to contribute, but Alex fended him off with a whip and chair, saying: "It’s like bein’ at hame: ye cannae get a wurd in edgeways."

Elaine Murray (Lab) opposed hunting but had been mortified to find two hunts in her Dumfries constituency. Now, accordingly, she didn’t know what to think. She decided it might be good if everyone could just say hunting was bad, but not actually do anything about it.

She found a strange ally for this strategy in Michael Russell (SNP) who also - surprise, surprise - represents a south of Scotland constituency. And, yea, he found there were cruelty supporters among his electorate and, lo, he too had mysteriously modified his views.

"I find myself in some discomfort," he said, as a riding crop fell out of his backside. Michael described attending a meeting of the sinister Countryside Alliance. He had been appalled. It was like something out of the League of Empire Loyalists in The Thirty-Nine Steps.

However, he had been "very struck" by one farmer there and, though he did not tell us what he had been struck with, it was clear that the blow had been aimed at the head.

Des McNulty (Lab) decided to throw some dimness on the situation but, as he settled into the air-conditioning sound that signals he is orating, I decided I’d suffered enough cruelty for one day and made my way home through the rain and the red-faced freaks.