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Why The SNP Decided To Block The Conservatives' Fox-Hunting Bill

The party broke with long-held convention to vote on an English issue.

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The SNP's decision to block the Conservatives' fox-hunting bill came despite concerns within the party that it could potentially open up "a minefield", one of the party's 56 MPs told BuzzFeed News.

Traditionally the SNP only votes in the House of Commons on matters that affect Scotland. But the party broke with this long-held convention on Monday, agreeing to vote against the relaxation of fox-hunting laws in England and Wales even though there was some concern within the parliamentary party that the decision could be used against them in future.

"It has the potential to be a minefield," said the MP. "It doesn't bind us to anything, but now if we choose not to vote on, for example, kids' school dinners in England, people will say, 'So are foxes more important than children?'"

The decision to vote on the fox-hunting law was taken in a private meeting of the SNP group on Monday night, two days before the planned vote.

Half a dozen MPs remained strongly opposed to the party voting on an English matter, but the vast majority were persuaded by senior SNP parliamentarians that on this occasion, it would be politically advantageous to block the Conservatives' efforts to relax the hunting law.

"I was torn about it," said the MP. "It was a tough call but we suspected that once we made the announcement, the vote would be cancelled, and that's exactly what happened." The postponement of the bill was announced by the government after the SNP's decision.

"People have said we're just playing politics with it," the MP continued, "but it's no coincidence this happened in the same week as the EVEL [English vote for English laws] debate – it was the government who made this political."

The SNP press release that accompanied the announcement suggested the move was revenge for the government "refusing to agree" to any of the SNP's suggested amendments to the Scotland bill:

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.

Nicola Sturgeon was present at the meeting at which the decision was taken and it was reported that she had travelled down specifically to persuade the group that voting against the bill would be the right call, although BuzzFeed News understands her attendance was part of a pre-standing arrangement to attend a Westminster group meeting every two months.

Alex Salmond wasn't at the meeting, but on Tuesday morning, when he entered the Commons, he shouted the traditional hunt call of "Tally-ho!" at unamused Conservative MPs.

The next England and Wales issue the SNP could intervene on is the assisted dying bill, which is due to come before the Commons in September. It is highly likely to be a free vote, meaning MPs can vote with their conscience, and SNP MPs who are in favour of assisted dying are already in discussions on whether or not to vote for it.

"I know I want to vote for it," said the MP. "We'll just have to see what happens."

Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.

Contact Jamie Ross at jamie.ross@buzzfeed.com.

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