Five things the spring hunting referendum is NOT about, and a few things it is about
Well that was fun. The spring hunting referendum had everything you’d expect from a Maltese campaign – scaremongering, propaganda, lies, images of smiling happy families, billboards, puppies, Gianni Zammit…
Before I embark on this listicle (sorry hunters, that isn’t a new species of bird) I want to mention that I’m not affiliated to any campaign. I’m just an opinionated guy who dislikes flawed reasoning, and I’ve seen plenty of flawed reasoning in this campaign. I wanted to look at the campaign from a bird’s eye view. Oh crap…
So here are five things which, to my mind at least, the spring hunting referendum is not about, and a couple of things it actually is about.
It isn’t about loving animals
Hunters keep dogs (and love them, presumably) and most people who are against spring hunting eat meat. If you loved animals so much you would neither shoot them out of the sky, nor eat them after someone else conveniently killed them and chopped them up into little pieces for you.
That said, hunters are mistaken when they argue that killing a bird is exactly the same as slaughtering a cow. Yes, both involve killing a living creature. The difference is that cows, chickens and pigs that are eaten have been bred by a farmer specifically for that purpose, and unlike wild birds, are stunned before they’re killed. Ultimately, those farm animals are someone’s property.
Whether you think this is right or wrong is another issue. On the other hand, wild birds don’t belong to anyone. If you shoot down birds (or catch fish) without giving them the chance to reproduce and repopulate, you’re contributing to the loss of biodiversity, which you have no right to do.
Hunters say they safeguard the environment by picking up other people’s rubbish, fixing rubble walls and so on. All very commendable, but they can do this without killing birds, so that argument can be thrown out as well.
It isn’t about traditions, hobbies or patriotism
Let’s get one thing clear – a ban on spring hunting will not automatically lead to a ban on fireworks, fishing, horse racing, knitting in the nude (phew!), watching Hadd Ghalik (more’s the pity), or any other hobby.
Even so – Let’s say fireworks enthusiasts suddenly became grossly negligent overnight, and this results in a spate of fireworks factory explosions that kill scores of bystanders, year after year. In that case the public would have every right to discuss banning fireworks. But that’s an unrealistic scenario, and in any case we aren’t talking about fireworks, so don’t let hunters try to distract you from the issue at hand.
A ban on spring hunting won’t even lead to a ban on all hunting. Hunters will still be free to hunt for five months during the autumn hunting season.
A ban on spring hunting is a fair compromise between hunters and the wider public. Hunters still get to practice their hobby, just not during a critical period in their breeding cycle.
If hunters really must shoot stuff in spring, the video game Far Cry 4 has a really fun set of mini-games in which you get to hunt exotic birds, and tigers too!
It isn’t about social class
Some hunters have tried to frame a ban on spring hunting as the privileged middle class taking away the simple pursuits of the working class man. At the same time, the ‘Yes’ camp (that’s the same hunters – I’m getting confused even writing this) have been trying to promote the image of the gentleman hunter (pictured right), striding purposefully through the countryside with his trusty hounds. They want to be seen both as down-to-earth, simple folk attuned to nature, as well as sophisticated chaps who drive Range Rovers and wear nice clothes sponsored by Bortex, as a friend of mine put it. What I want to know is where have they locked up all the hunters who look like Rambo after he went on the Pastizzi Diet™?
The hunters have also been busy donating blood and building houses in Ethiopia or whatever. But if they lose this weekend you can be sure the mask will slip, just as it did when the government closed last year’s autumn season after hunters’ various shenanigans. I’m guessing they’ll probably raise hell even if they win. Let’s just say next weekend will be interesting whatever the outcome, so stock up on popcorn.
I could go on forever about the Yes camp’s silly campaigning. “Iva, bhala Malti u Ewropew.” What does that even mean?
It isn’t about minority rights
It’s about reducing the disproportionate influence that a small group of people have over the way the country is run. You can’t compare hunters to other minorities like the LGBT community. Allowing gay marriage doesn’t affect anyone except gay people. On the other hand, killing birds in an unsustainable way does have broader negative consequences, even for hunters themselves.
Being a minority does not automatically make you an oppressed good guy, no matter how much you try to play the underdog. In fact if the No vote wins it isn’t powerless minorities that should be worried. It’s the influential lobby groups like the developers who might have to start looking over their shoulders.
A No vote really is a vote for democracy, and for logic.
It isn’t about illegal hunting
If you think that by voting No you’re going to stop those hunters who shoot at anything that moves regardless of whether it’s protected or not, you sadly won’t. In fact, this is the only feasible (at a stretch) argument I can think of in favour of retaining the spring hunting season, because at least that way everything will be out in the open rather than more hunters going underground. People who break the law aren’t just going to stop breaking the law because of a new rule.
So what is the spring hunting referendum about?
More than anything, the referendum on spring hunting is about sustainability Hunting has contributed to the decline in both Common Quail and Turtle Dove populations in Europe over the past few decades. While it isn’t the only threat – habitat destruction, intensified agriculture and climate change have been cited as three other major factors – hunting is viewed as an “aggravating factor.” If something you’re doing is aggravating a problem then you stop doing it, if you have any sense.
Hunters will say that the impact of hunting in Malta is negligible, but Malta is part of a wider corridor which these birds use to migrate and breed. Besides, surely it’s in their own best interests to make sure these birds have a long term future.
It’s also about sending a clear message to the political establishment, who have not-so-subtly thrown their weight behind the ‘Yes’ camp. While the two main parties don’t have an official stance on the referendum, both leaders have said they’ll be voting Yes, when they could have easily chosen to not to comment. They know full well that by announcing their intentions the brainwashed masses who support them will follow suit without question. It’s an opportunity for the rest of us to make our voices heard. Joseph Muscat said we are free to vote how we want.
Like we needed his permission.
Labour and PN would love nothing more than for the status quo to remain the same. That way, they don’t have to worry about losing precious votes. For them, change is a pain in the ass. Change is too much effort, too much hassle.
Let’s be a pain in the ass.
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