It’s not often this happens so you might want to mark the date in your diary or tell your wife or your husband or something: I agree with the SNP.

The issue that has brought about this momentous day is dogs, specifically big dogs, specifically XL Bully dogs that are controversial for the good reason that many of the attacks we see (sometimes fatal) are by XL Bullies. Most XLs will never attack anyone, but some do and when they do, their size and strength means it often ends badly.

The UK Government is apparently worried about this issue (general election next year!) so Rishi Sunak is introducing a ban in England and Wales that comes into effect at the end of December. It will then be illegal to breed, sell, or rehome XLs which means effectively there’ll be a ban (although bear in mind that pit bull terriers were “banned” 30 years ago and there are more of them now than ever).

The problem is – and this isn’t worth noting in your diary – the SNP wants to do things differently from the UK Government and intends to keep the system they have already. I’ve read the letter the minister for community safety, Siobhian Brown, wrote on the subject and what she says is that Scotland will be sticking with dog control notices organised by local councils.

There are a number of potential inconsistencies, and problems, with this. First of all, Ms Brown said in her letter that after the ban, the UK Government would need to ensure no XL Bullies were abandoned over the border in Scotland. But as the campaigner Doug Smith of Bully Watch pointed out to me, why is the Scottish Government concerned about a potential influx of Bully dogs into Scotland if they take the view that the XL Bully is inherently no more aggressive than any other breed? It makes no logical sense.

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The other issue that’s raised by the potential of different regimes in England and Scotland is the idea of an “invasion” or influx of XL Bully owners and breeders into Scotland, and this absolutely seems like it could happen. One owner of an XL told me she had already heard of breeders who were planning to make the move and Doug Smith was emphatic: “Breeders of XL Bully dogs will absolutely move to Scotland,” he said.

None of this means, however, that the UK Government is necessarily right and the Scottish Government is wrong. Ms Brown said that the ban had been introduced without any consultation; she also said it was important any change in the law was based on evidence and she’s right. Fatal attacks happen and XL Bully dogs are often involved, but a question remains over what the best solution is.

Ideally, the two governments would have taken the same approach on this, but let’s focus on the achievable shall we? The Scottish Government says it’s sticking with dog control notices because they’re proportionate and focus on owners who have allowed their dogs to be out of control. Fair enough, although the system kicks in after, not before, a dog has got out of control which has obvious risks. And there have been serious incidents in Scotland, including a death in 2021.

The Herald:

However, given the ineffectiveness of bans in the past, including the one on pit bulls, there’s a good chance the Scottish Government is right that bans are not the answer. We also need to talk about the issue everybody ignores: class. XL Bullies are often bought as status symbols and the problem is most serious in working class or deprived communities. Doug Smith told me Scottish ministers should put themselves in the shoes of people who live on estates and have to tip-toe round big dogs and their owners every day. That’s where the issue is worst and that’s where people are most likely to die.

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What it all points to, in the end, is the need for evidence, for a thorough review, for a re-examination of a piece of legislation, the Dangerous Dogs Act, that’s been in place for 30 years but has proven pretty useless in preventing or reducing dog bites and attacks. A new ban may work. There may be an influx of XL Bullies into Scotland. But whatever happens, the current system isn’t working, for the owners, for the dogs, and for the rest of us.