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The Daily Telegraph (Alan Cochrane) - Thursday July 22nd 1999.


 Anti-hunt peer picks up the scent of glory

At first glance it might appear strange that a public school educated peer of the realm would countenance bringing in a Bill to outlaw foxhunting. To the uninitiated he is surely just the sort of chap who would support, rather than try to ban, riding to hounds.

However Lord Watson of Invergowrie confirmed yesterday that he is the man who will represent Scotland and its parliament in the great "who banned fox-hunting first" race that is now to be run against Westminster. And this is no half-hearted affair. Ever since Tony Blair said that the Commons would move to outlaw fox hunting in England there has been a growing worry among Scots "antis" that hordes of tally-hoing men and women would flood forth to assuage their alleged bloodlust.

Since devolution any Commons reassures on such an issue does not apply to Scotland - so the prospect arose of hunting being legal in Scotland, while banned in England.

Lord Watson's move plans to close that option and the probability must be that the Scottish ban will reach the statute book first.

There is no doubt that the measure will easily win a majority in the new assembly, with the vast majority of labour and nationalist MSPs supporting it. Only the '1'ories and perhaps a handful of Liberal Democrats wilt oppose it.

Although it is a backbencher's measure, Lord Watson's Bill will sit well with the Scottish executive's plans for land reform, which include more access to privately-owned land and the right of "communities" to buy estates when they come on the market. And, just as it does in England, it allows New Labour to parade its supposed socialist credentials over an issue that will be fought very much on class war lines - even though no one will dream of admitting to such a base motive.

Taken together with the proposals on land reform, the move to ban fox-hunting - despite having very few adherents in Scotland - will be seen by many in rural areas as confirming their worst fear, namely that urban Scotland will call all the shots in the new democratic order.

But there is nothing like the support, either active or passive, for force-hunting in Scotland that there is in England and opponents of Lord Watson's move, such as the Scottish Landowners' Federation, will be hard-pressed to mount an effective campaign against the Bill.

'They are likely to concentrate their tactics on highlighting the damage that foxes do to game birds, which are a huge source of revenue in rural Scotland. But even here their protests may fall on deaf ears.

The idea that the majority can call a halt to the hitherto lawful activities of a minority should, o~ course, set alarm bells ringing. But don't bet on it.

Lord Watson, himself, is an interesting character. He prefers to be called plain "Mike" these days and is so addressed in the new parliament. He was formerly the Westminster MP for Glasgow Central but famously or maybe that should be in-famously - lost to Mohamed Sarwar in the selection battle for the Govan constituency when Central was abolished by boundary changes.

His peerage came in 1997 and was seen by many as a sop by party managers for his making to much fuss over that selection defeat.

He now represents Glasgow Cathcart - peers are permitted to sit in the Scottish parliament -- and although his is an inner-city seat, Lord Watson is not an archetypal urban Labourite. As his full title acknowledges, he was brought up in the attractive village of Invergowrie which, although essentially a suburb of Dundee actually prides itself as being in ever-so-tweedy Perthshire.

Lord Watson went not to a state school (but to Dundee High), the city's only fee-paying day school. However, although his background is essentially middle class his working class credentials are nowadays impeccable.

He was a full-time union official, is the official historian of Dundee United Football and is involved in a consortium that is trying to bring about a change of ownership at the club.

Lord Watson has already shown himself to be an effective member of the Scottish Parliament.

But he has now booked himself a place in Labour Party mythology if, as seems likely, he becomes the first man in Britain to ban fox hunting.

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