THE Scottish Government is “not persuaded of the need” for a ban on greyhound racing, with a minister saying such a move is not “proportionate”.

A ban has been proposed in a long-running petition before the Scottish Parliament as well as an upcoming member’s bill tabled by Green MSP Mark Ruskell.

There is currently only one operating track in Scotland at Thornton near Kirkcaldy, Fife, with another in the Shawfield area of Glasgow not having opened since the pandemic.

Appearing before the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee on Wednesday, Government minister Jim Fairlie said: “At this time, the Scottish Government is not persuaded of the need to ban greyhound racing in Scotland.

READ MORE: Scottish ban on greyhound racing proposed in new bill

“In particular, we are not convinced that a ban on greyhound racing in Scotland is proportionate and a fair response to the animal welfare concerns arising from the practice.”

Despite not being convinced of an outright ban, the minister said the Government is looking into the possibility of a licensing scheme, which could see animal welfare breaches result in a licence being revoked.

Fairlie went on to say attendances has dropped at Thornton – a track not regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) – as the popularity of the sport wanes north of the border.

There is also a lack of evidence from Thornton on the number of deaths and injuries caused to the animals, he said, compared to figures from the GBGB which showed 22,284 injuries in the UK between 2018 and 2022.

A total of 2718 dogs died during the same period due to a number of factors, although the annual number of deaths has dropped around two-thirds in that time.

The National: Jim Fairlie MSPGovernment minister Jim Fairlie

He added that dogs at Thornton often have better animal welfare because they are considered “family pets” rather than professional racing dogs, although he was unable to provide evidence to support his assertion.

One piece of evidence the minister did use was a message he was sent from a friend who races greyhounds.

“I have a friend who has rescued greyhounds over a number of years, and I contacted him and asked him what was the reality here in Scotland and he sent me this response,” the minister said.

“My greyhounds were all rescues, failed racers,” he quoted his friend as saying.

“However, I did race them with great success and – I add – all were kept until the day they died.

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“Jim, the dogs love racing, it’s just the same as them doing agility or flyball – as usual the fault is with owners.”

The main problem, the friend reported, is professional trainers who discard dogs “as if they are of no use” if they do not yield success on the track and “only want to own a winner”.

Committee convener Finlay Carson, appearing somewhat taken aback by the minister’s evidence, said: “With all due respect, can I remind you that you’re here speaking on behalf of the Scottish Government – you’re the minister – so it’s the Government’s position we want on this.”

Responding to accusations that his evidence was “anecdotal”, Fairlie said he remains “open” to further evidence.

The minister – a long-time farmer – also told MSPs there is a social aspect to dog racing that the Government is reticent to see end.

“I would like to go to the track and go and have a look for myself and see what is happening at the track,” he said.

“I just don’t want the Government to ban something that is part of the social fabric of that community on the basis of stuff that we haven’t fully explored, so I would like to explore it further.”

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Fairlie also refused to say if the Government agreed with a report by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC), which claimed greyhounds in Scotland have worse health outcomes than other dogs.

Nor did he agree with the SAWC that using kennels to house dogs “do not appear compatible with giving dogs a good quality of life”, citing his own experiences owning working dogs.

“They have been more than happy to live in kennels,” he said.

“I had no animal welfare concerns about any of my dogs or any of the conditions of any of my shepherd friends or farming friends.”