In less than 24 hours, the Maltese public will vote in a historic abrogative referendum to decide whether they would like to allow spring hunting to continue. While this referendum is posing a very clear yes/no voting scenario for the electorate, it is abundantly clear that tomorrow’s choice is far greater than the issue of spring hunting itself.
Both the yes and no camp have presented their cases to the public. On one side we have cries of animal conservation, animal rights and equal countryside rights for everyone. On the other side, we have concepts of ‘minority’ rights, cultural heritage and equality as European citizens. I have had the opportunity to listen and absorb both sides of the argument, and while I am making no secret of the fact that I will be voting NO, I do believe that this referendum transcends the simple Yes/No vote.
I give you the concept of ‘Citizen Science’, popularised by Alan Irwin in his 1995 book of the same name, and the subject of a painstaking book review I completed in 2011. In a nut shell, this book provides a compelling overview of how and why citizens in general fail to engage in wider scientific debates, which generally results in them being absent or excluded from decision-making processes that have a direct or indirect impact on them.
This is exactly what has happened in Malta for decades over the issue of spring hunting. The non-hunting public has been excluded for too long from this debate. The only ‘players’ in this issue have always been the two political parties and the FKNK, with BirdLife Malta and environmentalists flailing frantically in between trying to achieve some form of resolve.
As social scientists and policy workers, we learn about the ‘bottom-up’ approach to governance (even in environmental governance), where people at the bottom of the food chain come together en masse to contribute to the governance process. The reality is that this concept appears to be somewhat mythological in most democracies, especially in archaic democracy structures such as the one we have in Malta.
But the tide has turned, and this concept has FINALLY arrived in Malta. Citizens are calling the shots now; me, you, your friends and families, and their friends and families, and so on. Politicians have been strong armed into taking a backseat and allowing ordinary non-political people to spar.
This is why this referendum is so important, as it is a reflection of purest form of democracy we could ever hope to witness in this country. In reality, neither the environmentalists nor the hunters are the bad guys in this scenario. They are both fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in. The real bad guys in this scenario are our politicians, who have consistently deceived us and dragged their feet on the hunting issue since our accession to the EU. They lied about the derogation, they lied about the legality of the past hunting seasons, they consistently keep on allowing this atrocious practice to happen in spring – and all this being done in fear of retribution by hunters and the subsequent loss of their votes.
Tomorrow, we have the opportunity to stand and be counted, so that Malta can be ‘Taghna Lkoll’ and we all can have a ‘Futur fis-Sod’, irrespective of our political beliefs.
Tomorrow, you can eliminate the political blackmail that the hunting lobby has using keeping on our political parties. No more threats to vote for someone else if they do not get what they want, no more voting boycotts, no more bullying, just no no NO NO NO!!
Vote NO, and stand to be counted!