Readers' letters: Don’t blame animal rights activists for horses dying

With the Scottish Grand National in Ayr being held today, we are alarmed at the direction the narrative accompanying the lead-up has taken. We have seen countless media outlets headline the excuse that the horrifying equine fatalities at Aintree are the fault of animal rights activists.

As an animal welfare charity, just as we condemn anyone – including animal rights activists – who would imperil any animal life, neither will we step back and allow the horse racing industry to absolve itself of any liability for the deaths and injuries that accompany steeplechases.

We saw Ayr get its excuses in early as it issued statements about its security efforts and police liaison. In the event of fatalities, we can just about pre-write their statement – “despite our best efforts, animal rights activists…”. Let’s never mind there have already been fatalities slip under public attention at Ayr this month. Let’s ignore the deaths in previous years and at other less high-profile meets around Scotland.

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Could it be that these fatalities are something to do with the conditions hard-baked into horse racing itself and in fact not entirely the fault of animal rights activists? Perhaps the age and health of the horses involved shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand? Perhaps the gruelling demands of the racecourse aren’t irrelevant? It may even be possible that the sporting demand for ever faster times under a jockey’s whip can’t be ruled out as a factor?

An animal rights protester is apprehended by police officers at the second fence ahead of the Grand National at Aintree last SaturdayAn animal rights protester is apprehended by police officers at the second fence ahead of the Grand National at Aintree last Saturday
An animal rights protester is apprehended by police officers at the second fence ahead of the Grand National at Aintree last Saturday

We can only hope there are no tragedies this weekend; if there are surely a nudge and wink in the direction of animal rights activists will no longer suffice and the industry, whether dragged kicking and screaming, will have to confront the long overdue need for reform.

Graeme Corbett, Animal Concern, Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire


There has been, over the last few weeks, relentless demands from Scottish Conservative and Labour politicians that another political party, the SNP, should meet very high standards of transparency and accountability. There must be an “end to secrecy”. It is loudly declared that the Scottish public has a right to know.

No doubt, these demands must stand on their own as proper and reasonable. Otherwise, they might be seen as shameless efforts to exploit, or even influence, an active police investigation.

Broadly, there are three consistent demands for information, current and historical; membership numbers, income and expenditure, and audit. On these, not a single word, a figure or a link exists on the websites of Scottish Labour or the Scottish Conservatives. Likewise on the UK websites.

There must be many other Scottish citizens and voters who, like me, have long wanted to know about the Scottish memberships of these parties, how they are funded and by whom, especially the part played by trade unions, businesses, wealthy individuals and foreign-linked donors.

As to audit, it is not clear whether these “Scottish” parties are distinct financial entities required to produce audited accounts. Scottish Labour is an “autonomous section” of the UK party, whatever that means.

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If some political parties continue to hide basic information about membership and finances from the Scottish public surely our parliament must legislate for a basic level of annual disclosure applying to every party at Holyrood?

Robert Farquharson, Edinburgh

Welcome invader

The news that Glasgow University has been awarded a substantial grant by UK Research and Innovation to study mosquito vectors and their diseases in Scotland (Scotsman, 21 April) is very welcome.

Insects pay absolutely no attention to political boundaries. Paradoxically, butterflies apart, they are nearly always ignored in public discussions about biodiversity and the introduction of non-native species.

But the latter is not always a bad thing. Decades ago, I was the first to record the handsome hoverfly, Eriozona syrphoides, as a species new both to England and to Scotland. The size of a bumble bee, it had spread to the UK from Europe. Its larvae eat aphids that suck tree sap. Not a bad thing! An invader to be welcomed.

Hugh Pennington, Aberdeen

So predictable

It was entirely predictable that MSP Lorna Slater should blame Westminster for the delay in implementing the Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland (Scotsman, 21 April).

She was well warned that the DRS would run into difficulties with the UK Government but decided to charge ahead regardless. Why wasn’t a consensual approach with the UK Government tried, even if it meant a delay in introducing the scheme?

This confrontational attitude is a throwback to the Sturgeon era. Just when the electorate wished for and deserved a new broom under Humza Yousaf, it seems that we have been left with an increasingly threadbare brush worn down by arrogance and incompetence.

Bob MacDougall, Kippen, Stirling

Passing buck

New First Minister, same old “it wisnae me’”approach to every problem that arises and the automatic blaming of the UK government for all the SNP’s foul-ups.

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The DRS problem was not it seems caused by the cack-handed, hapless, out of her depth and unable to answer even the simplest question without guidance notes, Green coalition minister, Lorna Slater. No, of course, it was all the time those evil Westminster-ites, perhaps even MI5, making her do what she did and alienating everyone involved. Handled skilfully this matter was decidedly and ominously not.

Alexander McKay, Edinburgh

Alcohol addicts

In response to Joseph Anderson’s article relating to the government U-turn on alcohol advertising (Scotsman, 21 April) I felt inclined to join in the discussion.

A think tank of doctors were asked to list the features they would consider would define the worst disease that could affect people. The result was generic but addiction ticked most of the boxes.

As a member of a family support group which supports relatives and friends of addicts, I heard the statistic that if ten people go for a night out involving the consumption of alcohol, one of them will become an addict with all the hardship, grief and destruction of relationships that accompany this disease.

Which individual in the group will succumb is a bit of a game of Russian Roulette. It depends on many factors: partly genetic, partly environment, partly ability to deal with stress, partly brain chemistry etc.

People recover all the time from their addictions but it requires abstinence – a considerable amount of hard work for them and life-changing behaviour. So anything we can do to support them is essential.

Considerably more attention needs to be given to informing people about addiction, to make us all aware of the mechanism of addiction and the potential dangers and indeed make us wary. This awareness should distinctly outweigh any form of advertising. The government must take the lead in addiction education and reduction of alcohol product promotion.

When the understanding of addiction becomes a societal norm the benefit to addicts, their families and society in general will be enormous.

Norman Lindsay, Dunfermline, Fife

Chancers fall

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It is interesting that three of the world’s biggest chancers – Trump, Murdoch and Sturgeon – have all been hauled over the coals at the same time. It gives me faith in a Western world much denigrated by many sectors of the media.

Brian Wilson, Glasgow

Pipe dreams

Mairi Gougeon, the SNP’s Rural Affairs honcho, is to be applauded for her optimism that under her care Scotland will lead the world in climate-friendly (regenerative as opposed to traditional degenerative) farming (Scotsman, 21 April).

If she can regenerate the necessary soil health that so efficiently absorbs unwanted CO2 by weaning our farmers off their bad habits of ploughing; leaving soil bare over winter; using artificials such as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides; and instead restoring hedgerows and deciduous plantations, that will win her the world’s admiration and thanks.

If, further, she is able to ensure that all human and animal sewage is valued by appropriately treating and applying it to farm lands her stock will rise ever higher.

But if she can remove every sheep, thus allowing our bare hillsides to once again grow thick with valuable carbon-absorbing timber, and make the air free of the creatures’ climate harming exhausts Mairi will merit a Nobel Prize and even a statue in George Square.

I’m sure that most of us would like to see all that in action and so, as Mairi tells us that many farmers are already leading the way, perhaps she would be kind enough to mention a few? I know of none.

Tim Flinn, Garvald, East Lothian

On the ball

Joel Sked’s article on the need for more honesty and transparency in plans for restructuring Scottish football (Scotsman, 20 April) is excellent.

His description of a proposed new fifth-tier league as “ham-fisted nonsense” is exactly that. The inability of the Premier League to organise a proper Reserve League is at the root of clumsy attempts to take over the Lowland League by B teams of bigger clubs.

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The incompetence of the SPL is an embarrassment to the Scottish game. It’s time they organised a Reserve League. It should be made a condition of SPL membership.

Irvine Lapsley, Edinburgh

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