Dear Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.
I am writing this Open Letter to you on behalf of the 5300 members of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, of which I am Chairman. I am sure some of this will also resonate with rural workers in other sectors who united with us during the Rural Workers’ Protest, #RWP21, on March 19th.
I write to you after reading the 2021 election manifesto of the Scottish Green Party.
This has left me gravely concerned for the future of families of rural workers in remote parts of Scotland’s countryside, of which I am one.
If enacted, the proposals will effectively end all game management and angling in Scotland and destroy a significant part of Scotland’s cultural heritage.
It will place thousands of rural workers on the dole, with little prospect of re-deployment and affect the wellbeing and future prospects of their dependents.
Furthermore, I believe it will significantly impact Scottish Government targets and will impose crippling burdens on the public purse which cannot realistically be afforded.
I fully respect and acknowledge your personal political desire, and that of the SNP, to endeavour to secure Independence at some point. I have no truck with that aspiration and do not wish to enter any constitutional debate. This is not a matter of my concern, in writing.
Rather, I make a plea to you, on behalf of prospective impacted families, that should another coalition with the pro-Independence Greens become a reality, as in the previous Parliament, that this does not imply the adoption or pursuit of the Green policies in this Manifesto document which I believe will have a life-changing negative impact on so many rural households.
I fully appreciate that this manifesto is not your party’s own. I am aware, though, that any coalition requires policy trade-offs in return for budget support.
I seek at the very least reassurance from you, on behalf of our worried members, that any future coalition will not see the SNP adopt Green policies which will lead to mass redundancies amongst sectors of the traditional rural workforce of Scotland.
The Manifesto I mention does not imply the loss of a few jobs. It means thousands of jobs. Furthermore, the vague alternatives look like they will create less jobs, are entirely un-costed, un-defined and will require yet more public investment if they are ever to come to pass at all.
They may be a wish-list, issued to lure voters at election time, but they are causing distress in the minds of people growing fretful over their futures, their children’s education, where they are going to be living and how they are going to be making a wage in 5-10 years’ time. We have already received many communications about it.
Specifically, the commitment to end what the Greens term ‘bloodsports’ will mean the loss of 8800 shooting related jobs in Scotland, including downstream jobs. If angling is included in that description, there are over 2300 salmon and sea trout fisheries in Scotland and 4300 full-time equivalent jobs. That is 13,100 jobs before other manifesto commitments are considered.
The Greens’ manifesto talks about further reduction in sheep numbers. That’s shepherds’ jobs sacrificed, too. They want a full ban on fox control with dogs. That will impact game species, critically endangered ground-nesting birds (which Scottish Government has committed to protect) and it will see more deaths and injury to farm livestock at a time when the Parliament has just successfully achieved a Bill to reduce livestock loss through out of control dogs, which my organisation supported.
Numerous commitments in this manifesto will have catastrophic impacts on rural livelihoods on river and land, for negligible gain. I will not labour you with them all. There is also a fatally poor grasp of economics and the skills base required to make climate transitions.
For example, it costs the public purse around £6m a year to manage deer in public forests yet this represents only a small fraction of the total annual Scottish cull. The vast majority is financed privately and individually, with often diminishing income in return and with ever greater demand for the delivery of free public goods.
Replacing this private resource, as the trained gamekeepers and stalkers lose their jobs, would cost the tax payer additional tens of millions of pounds alone every year.
I understand not everyone might agree with shooting, deer stalking, fishing, hill farming or wherever but these activities are simply providing the income stream which enables families to continue to live as part of their own communities.
Remove it and the burden falls on the state at a time when economic recovery is paramount.
These people in the Green Party’s sights will also be those required to deliver the on-the-ground changes Governments want to see because they have the skills and indigenous knowledge to do so, in their communities.
Covid-19 has taught us a lot about how society operates and what is important. While many of the wealthy environment NGOs were furloughing staff and waiting for the public purse to re-open again, land managers were helping to ensure food security and supply, so the supermarket shelves weren’t bare.
The privately financed shooters, who were carrying out the pigeon and crow control for crops and the gamekeepers managing foxes at lambing time were all part of that process and the fabric and arrangements of rural life and land management which the Green party seem desperate to dispose of.
During lockdown gamekeepers and farmers put themselves at risk as volunteers and used their skills and equipment, freely, to help the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service extinguish wildfires which have caused unprecedented greenhouse gas emissions in recent years.
Low ground gamekeepers have continued to feed game and other birds such as songbirds through the hungry gap of a hard winter this year, despite having their shoot income cut to bits due to Covid 19. Heather management has helped the cause of our declining pollinators. River ghillies have continued to run mink traps and strip invasive plant species from our riverbanks, despite having reduced angling bookings throughout the year.
These are only a small flavour of what skilled workers in traditional rural industries are giving to Scotland without the outstretched cap, forever in hand. I am sure I do not need to remind you of the income Scotland receives in VAT and taxes from these rural activities and the visitors who create a growing demand for them. Take away the income stream, however, (as in all industries) and the country will have to pick up the tab.
This is the road this Green manifesto is clearly taking us down and I would not be doing my duty as Chairman of my organisation, or as a rural worker in forestry and gamekeeping of over 40 years, if I did not bring this to your attention.
The Greens’ election literature states that they are looking for a fairer and greener Scotland. I question where the fairness lies for the thousands set to lose their jobs and homes, or how ‘just’ their transition will be.
Should political realities suggest that another coalition with the Scottish Greens becomes likely, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you soon after the new Parliament convenes, to discuss these concerns more fully on behalf of our members.
I wish you good health and best regards for the remainder of the campaign.
Alex Hogg, MBE
Chairman, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, on behalf of our 5300 members.