Friday, March 20, 2009

something fishy in holyrood

MSPs often complain that they’re living in a goldfish bowl, so it's good to see them standing up for their fellow fish. The Holyrood petitions committee has asked the Scottish government to look into the welfare of Siamese fighting fish in Scotland’s pet shops. Apparently, these exotic creatures, which hail from Thailand, are suffering from obesity and lack of social interaction. Pretty much like the rest of the population in fact.

The petitions committee was responding to public representations on aquarium living arrangements. But the fishy tale hooked the sourer sections of the Scottish press, who’re always on the lookout for loony legislation - like not boiling lobsters or banning foie gras. When the economy is collapsing, cried the Fourth Estate, how dare Holyrood waste time on the fate of overweight fish with psychological disorders!

Actually, the question is really one for the press itself to answer: why did we devote so much time, editorials, comment and column inches to such a trivial tale? Aren’t there better things to write about? Scottish children are suffering worse obesity even than Siamese fighting fish, so why not more editorials about that? The answer of course is that row over betta splendens, as the fish are properly called, was a welcome relief from the economic gloom, and allowed punning subs to run pictures of exotic fish under “storm in a goldfish bowl” headlines. Commentators took a populist pop at Holyrood, for being a waste of space.

It also gave the many sane and well-balanced folk who post comments on newspaper websites a chance to vent their spleens - and boy do they have spleens to vent. Only in the Scottish blogosphere could the fate of gold fish be turned into a constitutional issue, with Labour and SNP trolls biffing each other over what the affair tells us about the legitimacy of the Scottish government. Many comments had to be removed because they were offensive.

Mind you, some of the less poisonous posts were really rather funny. The apparent antisocial behaviour of the fighting fish is down to the availability of cheap drink, said one poster, and the Justice Minister should be looking into the problem. Another suggested that feeding the fat fish to the fat cats could solve two problems at once. But that’s quite enough wit from the web - we don’t want to put ourselves out of a job

I know it's boring but the welfare of animals is actually a responsibility of the parliament under numerous statutes like the Animal Health and Welfare Act. The petitions committee was only doing its job. A democratic parliament has a duty to take seriously issues that are presented to it by voters if there is evidence the law is not being upheld. But then I suppose that’s another kettle of fish.

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