A ROW has broken out after a Scots pro-fox hunting lobbyist described the English head of an animal welfare charity as a “stranger to our country” after new polling suggested Scots support a ban on hunting with hounds whether they live in a town or in the country.

Jamie Stewart, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA), described Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland (LACS) as a “stranger to our country” who has been “parachuted in”.

Marsland accused Stewart of “making personal comments which have no bearing on public opinion”.

Stewart made the comments after he was asked to respond to polling carried out on behalf of LACS which indicates that 80 per cent of Scots who live in urban areas and 73 per cent who live in rural areas think fox hunting with hounds should be illegal.

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 banned huntsmen from sending dogs to tear apart foxes but they can still be used to flush out foxes which should then be shot. A “loophole” in the law also allows hounds to be set on foxes if they are wounded during the hunt.

The Scottish Government is expected to release analysis of the results of a consultation on strengthening the law before the summer. More than 30,000 people responded.

LACS director Marsland said their new poll of 1,463 people “debunks the myth that this is a town versus country issue” and indicates that the majority of Scots believe the 2002 legislation “has failed in its purpose”.

Director of the SCA, Jamie Stewart, who speaks for Scotland’s huntsmen, said: “I know that Robbie Marsland is a stranger to our country, but I am perplexed by his continued demonstration of a complete lack of understanding or regard for Scottish legislation.

“The Scottish Parliament introduced the Protection of Wild Mammals Act in 2002 making the deliberate chase of a wild mammal with dogs illegal. This applies to fox hunting.

“What he is now trying to ban is genuine pest control.”

When the Sunday Herald asked Stewart whether he was referring to the fact that Marsland is English, he said: “Yes. Robbie was parachuted in from England and doesn’t really seem to understand Scottish legislation.”

Marsland said: “It’s unfortunate Mr Stewart has failed to understand the issue here which is very clearly about public support for a proper ban on fox hunting and the fact there is no difference in public opinion between those who live in urban areas and those who live rurally.

“Instead, rather than use the opportunity to give a valid view on the situation he has chosen to make personal comments which quite frankly don’t have any bearing on public attitudes in Scotland.”

Stewart pointed to SCA polling published in February which asked 1,031 people in Scotland which issues had the greatest impact on their vote in the General Election. The survey showed 98 per cent of people did not put fox hunting in their top five issues that affected their vote and none of the respondents mentioned fox hunting as an issue when asked for their opinion unprompted.

Fox hunting legislation is decided on by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament and the General Election sees voters elect MPs to the UK Parliament.

Stewart said: “Independent research published by the Scottish Countryside Alliance has shown again that hunting is completely irrelevant to Scottish voters … and inferring that this is somehow an urban/rural divide is simply a new tactic by the LACS to try and keep their campaign alive.”

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who is working to bring a bill before the Scottish Parliament which would completely ban fox hunting, said the new LACS polling is another indication of majority support for an outright ban.

“Advocates for blood sports are gradually running out of arguments for their cruel and outdated rituals not to be banned once and for all,” she said. “Hunting with dogs was banned in Scotland over 15 years ago, but hunts continue to take place across Scotland using a loophole which allows flushing with hounds.

“As more Scots, regardless of whether they live in an urban or rural area, come to realise that this barbaric practice is still taking place, I’m confident that more and more of them will want to see a permanent ban in place.”

Marsland added: “The Scottish Government has the opportunity to strengthen the legislation so that we have a law which really bans hunting. The League is urging those in power to let common sense prevail and make fox hunting illegal once and for all.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring the highest welfare standards for all animals – including those in the wild. In recognition of concerns about the effectiveness of the current fox hunting legislation, we asked one of Scotland’s most senior judges, Lord Bonomy, to carry out a detailed review of the current position.

“We will announce any plans we have to change the law on fox hunting once we have completed the analysis of the consultation on Lord Bonomy’s recommendations and carefully considered all the arguments that have been put forward.”