As part of a series of blog posts on our research on civil society activism and animal welfare rights, here we share some emerging findings on the impact of devolution in the UK. A key finding from our series of in-depth interviews with campaigners representing civil society organisations (CSOs) is their frustration with Westminster and generally positive views of the opportunities to engage and lobby parliamentarians in Wales and Scotland.
Speaking about Westminster, this interviewee reflected the general consensus: “The government definitely just can’t prioritize anything above [and beyond] Brexit anymore. And so, I think that’s probably the biggest problem we’ve got is that Brexit absorbs the oxygen from anything that isn’t Brexit”.
Allied to this, civil society campaigners have expressed their fury and frustration at the Conservative government’s decision in June this year to withdraw the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. This was going to deliver pledges set out in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto for greater protection of animals kept, imported into and exported from the UK – including, ending the unlicensed captivity of primates and export of live animals for slaughter and fattening.
The rapid turnover of prime ministers and political volatility is also seen by CSOs as a key problem. As this interviewee explained: “Scotland’s bit more [politically] stable [than Westminster]. And that’s why we’ve had more success in getting [policy gains] … [for example] they did put in new regulation for [dog] rescues… because they are working to a pretty regular schedule of elections, and it’s a little bit more stable. It’s a devolved administration… [that] feels better and more efficient”.
In a similar vein, this interviewee spoke of the difference between Cardiff and Edinburgh on the one hand –and Westminster on the other: “I think because some animal welfare is devolved. It can be easier to deal with. You know the devolved governments. I think when it comes to dealing with the UK Government it’s always harder. They are quite good at stonewalling or shutting things down”.
This was a view shared by several interviewees, including this manager: “I think the devolved governments and devolved parliaments are much easier to engage with, much more open and are far more democratic. So, we sit on cross party groups in both Wales and Scotland, and we’ve had success engaging in with the Scottish Government relatively easily, so that I mean, they actually approached us to give feedback and a heads up on launching a public consultation, which was quite a surprise… I think in comparison to the UK Government, it feels much more trusting of [civil society] organizations”.
Our interviewees also referred to the benefits of distinctive structures and institutions of devolved governance in Wales and Scotland. For example, a number alluded to the work of the Scottish Government’s Animal Welfare Commission. While in Wales, interviewees highlighted Animal Welfare Network for Wales (AWNW). Established in 2006, this is an independent network of organisations that engages with key stakeholders, including the Welsh Government. Such collaboration continues to shape policy, as in the case of the Welsh Code of Practice for Animal Welfare Establishments.
As this interviewee explained: “Other advantages we’ve got is we’ve got Animal Welfare Network Wales, [through this…] we’ve got a network that is accessible to smaller charities… and that means that there is a framework there that they can get involved in if they want”.
Our study also revealed the importance of the Third Sector Partnership Council. This is a unique feature of devolved governance designed to shape policy and lawmaking in Wales based on a statutory requirement for collaboration between Welsh government and the voluntary sector. As this interviewee notes: “then, of course, there’s that direct link between the third sector and the obligation in law for the [Welsh Government] minister to meet with the third sector and animal welfare will be represented there through Animal Welfare Network Wales and Companion Animal Welfare Group Wales.”
In both practical and academic ways, these findings are significant. They show how animal welfare lobbying in the UK today aligns with classic social movements theory. This underlines the importance of what are termed “political opportunity structures”. These are the structures and other factors that allow civil society organisations to press their representative – or policy claims on government.
They also confirm the value of the academic literature on neo-institutionalism, network governance and advocacy coalitions. In short, these show us how the design and operation of political institutions and policy networks shapes the policy process. In turn, this points to the value and importance of devolution to civil society advocacy of animal welfare in Wales and Scotland.
As we will explore in a future post, this is leading to the “territorialisation” of animal welfare rights (i.e., distinctive laws and policies in Wales, Scotland and England – that convey contrasting rights and protections). From a UK perspective, it is also offering the potential for the levelling up of animal welfare practices through policy transfer. This is when gains (in the form of new laws and policies) in one nation are used to campaign for similar reforms elsewhere.
Read the previous post here: Shifting public attitudes to animal welfare? New research explores the views of civil society campaigners
Research interviews by Kathleen Job.