Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Emperor's New Clothes

Today's blog is all about seals. Scotland's seals. Did you know that since 2011 the Scottish Government has been issuing licences to hunters to kill them in their thousands?

Although I have only been involved since early 2011, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) has a long history of campaigning to protect seals in Scotland dating back to the early 1980s when our volunteers took direct action against the then Scottish Office instructed cull in the Orkneys, risking their lives by lying down amongst the seals which otherwise would have been shot without hesitation.

Capt Watson and crew visit Little Green Holm Summer 2011

The very happy end result of that campaign was the cull being stopped and to ensure that it could not be restarted wherever SSCS had control over matters, SSCS Islands Trust purchased the Island of Little Green Holm which exists to this day as a Seal Sanctuary.

A wide range of stakeholders, including SSCS, then continued to campaign against the illegal killing of seals which sadly commenced almost as soon as the state-sponsored culls had ended.  Nobody can state with 100% confidence how many seals are being killed illegally every year but the Scottish Government told us that they put the figure at 1,000 and were aggressively dismissive of any other figure, higher or lower. I was at that meeting, the figure of 1,000 was actually shouted in my face by a senior policy officer from Marine Scotland. He would admit no deviation from that number and if that's the number he wants to use who am I to argue with a Government official?

On 31st January 2011 the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 became effective in law. The Scottish Government announced it with huge fanfare claiming that, amongst other things, it would provide increased protection for Scotland's Seals. Subsequent press releases have continued to be phrased in the most self-congratulatory style. How wonderful our Government is. We should all be very proud. If only.

Remember the figure which they insisted we use for illegal killings was 1,000. To protect those 1,000 seals from harm Marine Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government issued licences immediately to cull 1,298 seals which increased to 1,339 seals by year end. Talk about treating the electorate with contempt!

The following year they issued licences for another 1,167.

So to reduce the illegal killing of 1,000 seals we issue liences two years running to "legally" kill an even larger number. Hey presto, no more illegal killings, none, zip, nada, nil, how fantastic; the Scottish Government has eliminated crime. All it took was making this particular crime legal. All it took was criminals making sure they had a bit of paper allowing them to do what they were always going to be doing anyway and finding a Government Department willing to collude with them whilst they did so. I wonder what else that would work with?

Something else that was launched in January 2011 was the wonderful Visit Scotland advertising campaign, Surprise Yourself. I still love this video:

High point of the video is Mike Smith, the chef from Shirley Spear's wonderful Three Chimneys Restaurant on Skye, pointing out the seals to his diners. And so he should. The United nations identifies Scotland's seals as a flagship species invaluable to our country's tourist economy.

I still cannot for the life of me fathom why the Scottish Government should be allowing our essential tourist economy to be replaced with (mostly) Norwegian owned fish farms and (at least partly) non-Scottish owned hunting/shooting/fishing estates. All of these industrial and private commercial interests benefit only a tiny minority of already very wealthy people whilst destroying a(nother) generation of young rural Scots by putting tourism at risk allowing those non-tourism businesses to kill as many seals as they can get licences for.

Killing seals just for the crime of being seals. Please be under no illusion, our very fragile rural economy is at real risk, extreme risk and the very few that benefit from the decision to do this can not easily be shown to genuinely benefit any other part of our national wealth. Economically it is insane. Morally it is repugnant.

A very good friend with close connections to the Government described me (in the nicest possible way) as a "troublemaker" whilst very kindly promoting Musings on a Troubled Planet for me.

Yes I am. I'm exactly the sort of troublemaker as the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Emperor's New Clothes. This is the short story about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, or stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a little boy cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"

Did you spot the two Emperor's new Clothes observations in today's blog?

Emperor's New Clothes #1

Licences to turn 1,000 illegal killings per year into 1,000+ legal killings. The little boy shouts out to the crowd, "The Emperor's Immoral!" At best the Emperor is an accessory to crime.

Emperor's New Clothes #2

Salmon farms and exclusive hunting/shooting/fishing estates to replace essential tourism. the little boy shouts out, "The emperor is an economic illiterate!" At best the Emperor thinks he can ignore the moral majority because the money men can afford better lobbyists.

New clothes for the Emperor

We need the good politicians that still remain to fix this before Scotland faces her new future either as a fully independent nation or as a much more autonomous constituent country of the UK, 2014 will not retain the status quo no matter what way the vote goes. Either way, post 2014 the World's eyes will be on us to see what sort of clothes we are wearing.

If you would like to know more about the campaign to save Scotland's seals from being killed please visit

Thank you for reading.