Last week, I headed north for my first party political conference at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. The SNP conference is the largest party conference in Scotland, and came just days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a second independence referendum.
As well as the main arena, which is used for speeches, the conference is a chance for charities to engage with members, councillors, MPs and MSPs about the issues they are working on. OneKind’s stall with the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland proved to be a popular stop for people during the day. Situated on the way into the main arena, there was a constant stream of people stopping by to find out what we’re doing to end cruelty to Scotland’s animals.
We chose to focus on two campaigns while we were there. We collected signatures for our joint Snare-Free Scotland campaign which calls for an end to the manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares in Scotland. This was particularly relevant as it came days after the publication of a review into snaring by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). The review, commissioned by the Scottish Government, chose to recommend some small changes to the way snares are regulated rather than consider a complete ban.
Given the recent media coverage the review got, it was an issue people were familiar with when they come up to talk to us. I spoke to people who were outraged that Scotland is one of the only countries in Europe that still hasn’t banned snares, and a woman who knew of a cat that had been caught in a snare a few years back. We also collected pages and pages of signatures from people who supported our calls for a complete ban on snares.
The second campaign we were talking to people about was fox hunting. Despite the sport being banned in Scotland, loopholes in the law mean that traditional hunts are still taking place across the country. Many people who approached the stall were shocked to find out that fox hunting isn’t banned, and even more so when I talked to them about the autopsy of a hunted that OneKind commissioned last year.
I also chatted to people from the Borders who were following the current trial of two men who are accused of hunting foxes with hounds, which was happening on the same day as the conference. The issue was brought alive by footage shot by the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland playing on a TV at our stall which shows a hunt taking place. You could see the impact it was making from the disbelief on people’s faces as they stood with their eyes glued to the screen.
Overall, most of the people I spoke to were very supportive of the work done by OneKind. In fact, I only spoke to one person all day who believed that foxes are vermin and should be killed. Everyone else was angered by the fact that we live in a country where these beautiful animals are allowed to be snared and hunted without a second thought.
As far as first party political conferences go, I found the SNP one to be a great way for me to engage with new people about our campaigns. It was also a fantastic opportunity to catch up with those who already support the work done by charities like OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland whether it be through petitions, membership, and social media. I look forward to attending more political conferences in the Autumn to make the case for Scotland being a leader on protecting animals.