Tomorrow, 12 August, is the ‘Glorious Twelfth’: the official start of the grouse-shooting season. This normally means plenty of tweed and guns heading north, in cars, in planes, and on the railways. This year, however, there’s something of a spanner in the works. Just weeks before the start of the season, ScotRail announced that they would be banning all guns on their trains. This is despite the fact that unloaded, properly licensed firearms are allowed on trains, as long as they are carried ‘in accordance with the law’. The sticking point here, however, is the part that says ‘with prior permission of the train company’. So if ScotRail have decided they don’t want guns on their trains (they say it is a Health and Safety issue, after one passenger left a gun unattended on a train), then they are within their rights to ban them.
But as well as upsetting the travel plans of many keen shots, fieldsports campaigners argue that the ban will have serious financial implications in Scotland. Ever since the Victorians invented the romantic image of shooting estates in the Scottish Highlands, the country has had a steady influx of shooting tourism. Last year, it was estimated that fieldsports tourism brings in £155 million annually to the Scottish economy – with the potential for that to increase by another £30 million in the next three years.
Across the whole of the UK, around £2.5 billion is spent on shooting goods and services, and more specifically, grouse shooting in Scotland means that over £23 million flows back into local businesses in trade every year – in addition to the wages paid to gamekeepers and staff. Lianne MacLennan, of Scotland’s regional moorland groups, claims that ‘There is not a rural community in these seven [grouse shooting] areas that could afford to lose either the number of jobs created by the grouse estates or the business people are deriving from all the work that goes on in these places.’ And, of course, it is in the most remote parts of rural Scotland, where many grouse moors are located, that this money is needed the most. These are fragile economies, where the financial benefits that grouse moors and their accompanying tourists deliver are tangible; not simply a figure on a page.
Of course, it’s unlikely that ScotRail’s firearms ban will put off many shooters from heading up north. But it will inconvenience them, that’s for sure, and it’s worth noting that ScotRail don’t seem too bothered by the uproar from the rural community. Interestingly, on the opposite side of the argument Rupert Soames – brother of MP Nicholas Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill and, most importantly here, CEO of Serco – announced that the Caledonian Sleeper, which is run by Serco, will still allow customers to carry firearms legally. Will Scotland’s rural communities lose out by ScotRail’s ban? Or is it more likely that Serco will simply reap the financial benefits?