Nicola Sturgeon has warned David Cameron that he must respect the mandate of Scottish MPs at Westminster as the SNP vowed to scupper Government plans to relax the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales.
The prime minister had proposed removing restrictions on the number of hounds used to flush out foxes, a move critics argue would undercut the existing ban by making it impossible to prosecute meets.
It was not known whether SNP MPs would vote on the English-only issue, but Angus Robertson confirmed on Twitter that the party’s Westminster group would protect the existing ban, along with the Labour Party and Tory rebels. The move means Cameron will almost certainly lose Wednesday's vote, an outcome that’ll be celebrated by animal welfare campaigners, while bolstering the SNP’s popularity with those determined to uphold the ban.
The Scottish First Minister warned that her party would be prepared to vote on other issues where Scotland is not directly affected in the months ahead.
IN a backflip on her previous position, Ms Sturgeon directly linked the move to the Government's plans for "English votes for English laws", known as Evel, which would give English MPs a veto over England-only legislation at Westminster.
With a number of anti-hunting Conservative MPs planning to vote with Labour and the SNP in the Commons free vote, Ms Sturgeon said it was a reminder to Mr Cameron just how slender his Commons majority was.
"Since the election David Cameron's Government has shown very little respect to the mandate Scottish MPs have. On the Scotland Bill reasonable amendments backed by the overwhelming majority of Scottish MPs have been voted down," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"The English votes for English laws proposals brought forward go beyond any reasonable proposition and look to make Scottish MPs effectively second-class citizens in the House of Commons.
"So if there is an opportunity, as there appears to be here, and on an issue where David Cameron appears to be out of touch with majority English opinion as well, to actually remind the Government of how slender their majority is, that is an opportunity we will take."
Ms Sturgeon had said as recently as February that the SNP wouldn't intervene: “The SNP have a longstanding position of not voting on matters that purely affect England – such as foxhunting south of the border, for example – and we stand by that.”
Speaking to the HuffPostUK, a Conservative source said: "This is a technical change to bring the law in England and Wales more closely into line with Scotland. Hunting is a devolved issue. The SNP's decision to vote on a draft law that does not affect Scotland at all shows exactly why Conservatives committed in our Manifesto to ensure laws that only affect England can only be passed with the consent of English MPs."
In a statement, Robertson said: “We totally oppose fox hunting and when there are moves in the Scottish Parliament to review whether the existing Scottish ban is strong enough, it is in the Scottish interest to maintain the existing ban in England and Wales for Holyrood to consider.”
Ominously for the Tories, Robertson admitted his party's opposition to other laws the Tories are pushing Parliament partyly influenced Monday's decision by the SNP. “We are in a situation where the Tory government are refusing to agree to any amendments to improve the Scotland Bill -- which are supported by 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs -- and imposing English Votes for English Laws to make Scotland’s representation at Westminster second class,” he said.
“In these circumstances, it is right and proper that we assert the Scottish interest on fox hunting by voting with Labour against the Tories’ proposals to relax the ban -- in the process, reminding an arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is -- just as we will vote against the Tory welfare cuts next week,” he added.
Despite being in favour of the ban when it was first introduced, Cameron has recently argued for its update, claiming flushing out foxes is an issue of "pest control." Tory MPs were to be given a free vote on the issue, however the SNP’s intervention means the PM will now be forced to either push ahead with a vote that he’ll likely lose, or scrap the debate altogether.
Animal welfare campaigners will march on Parliament on Wednesday to protest against the changes, led by Queen guitarist Brian May. The musician-turned-activist last week accused pro-hunt group the Countryside Alliance of being a “bunch of lying bastards” during a heated exchange with its welfare consultant Jim Barrington on BBC’s Newsnight.
SNP Westminster Group Leader Angus Robertson's statement in full:
We totally oppose fox hunting, and when there are moves in the Scottish Parliament to review whether the existing Scottish ban is strong enough, it is in the Scottish interest to maintain the existing ban in England and Wales for Holyrood to consider.
We are in a situation where the Tory government are refusing to agree to any amendments to improve the Scotland Bill - which are supported by 58 of Scotland's 59 MPs - and imposing English Votes for English Laws to make Scotland's representation at Westminster second class.
In these circumstances, it is right and proper that we assert the Scottish interest on fox hunting by voting with Labour against the Tories' proposals to relax the ban - in the process, reminding an arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is - just as we will vote against the Tory welfare cuts next week, and appeal to Labour to join us.