by Colin Campbell
THE woman responsible for Scotland’s finances at this catastrophic time yesterday issued a statement – about sheep worrying. Kate Forbes’ intervention related to an incident involving a dog at Kincraig, near Aviemore. She said: “Sheep worrying is an issue that affects farmers and crofters in my constituency.
“Most dog walkers are careful and caring – but sadly not all appear to be, based on the number of attacks in the Highlands, including the latest incident at Kincraig.
“The consequences of an off-lead dog in a field of livestock can be devastating and traumatic for both the farmer and the animals.
“These attacks affect farmers financially and emotionally when farming is tough enough. It is thoughtless, selfish and foolish not to put a lead on a dog when near livestock.”
Being of crofting stock myself, I know about the problem of sheep worrying, although it was a very rare occurrence. In one dog attack I vividly remember at our smallholding when I was a child, my father hurriedly went for the shotgun he kept locked away, carefully took aim, and blew the offending canine to kingdom come. Unfortunate, but necessary, and legal.
However, Ms Forbes’ statement about careless dog owners raises another question.
As Scotland’s finance minister, she is second only to Nicola Sturgeon in being a decision-maker we’re supposed to be relying on at this incredibly dangerous and damaging time.
With the economy collapsing, a huge number of firms fearing they won’t survive, and tens of thousands of people at risk of losing their jobs, if they haven’t lost them already, doesn’t the country’s finance minister have more pressing concerns to focus on, non-stop, intensely, obsessionally even – than dogs occasionally being let off a lead around farmland?
According to the most recent figures, there were a total of 28 recorded incidents of sheep worrying at Highland farms in 2018. And now there’s been another at Kincraig.
But there’s a time to worry about sheep worrying and a time to worry about the country facing economic Armageddon.
Ms Forbes, who only became an MSP at the last election, was shoehorned in a hurry into the top finance job after her predecessor resigned in a scandal involving texts to a 16-year-old boy.
She was apparently the best choice available in our SNP Scottish Government-of-many-talents.
She’s been a good enough local Highland MSP. But just three years after being elected, it would be impossible for anyone so inexperienced to be hit foursquare by a crisis like the one we’re facing and not at times succumb to the feeling that she never volunteered for a challenge on this monumental scale, and is out of her depth.
Nicola Sturgeon will of course back her to the hilt – as the money pours north from the UK Treasury – and insist she’s just the person for the job.
But rather than having such an enormous, potentially crushing responsibility on her shoulders at this time, shouldn’t she still be devoting her energies to being a learning-on-the-job local MSP?
Where she’d have the necessary time and space to worry about things like sheep worrying.