I DON’T usually criticise the SNP. I don’t usually criticise them for the same reason that I don’t criticise the Greens, the Scottish Socialists, or any other groups who are involved in the independence movement. When independence supporters start to have a go at one another, it’s the Unionists who benefit.

It’s not a coincidence that the independence supporters who vocally and frequently make public criticisms of the SNP are the ones most likely to find themselves being offered writing gigs in the Unionist press. The Unionist press isn’t doing that because it’s keen to promote diversity within the wider Yes movement. So, generally, I bite my vicious tongue.

But sometimes you need to point out that your friends are shooting themselves in the foot, and you’re particularly likely to shoot yourself in the foot when you get into bed with the gun lobby.

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This week, the SNP did something which from the perspective of someone outside the party, but who is a part of the wider independence movement, came across as a monumental act of stupidity. On Wednesday, the SNP voted along with the Tories to permit, under certain circumstances, the docking of the tails of a couple of breeds of dogs in order to facilitate blood sports. The argument was that the working dogs are frequently injured by the tasks that they’re called on to perform, and that injury and trauma to the dogs can be avoided by allowing the dogs’ tails to be docked when they’re puppies.

Young puppies heal far more quickly than older dogs, and are, apparently, less likely to suffer from complications and trauma from the procedure. The SNP were persuaded by this argument, and so voted along with the lairds’ and landowners’ party, people whose idea of a fun time is blasting a wee bird out of the sky with a shotgun.

According to the hunting lobby, their working dogs are frequently injured and removing the injured tail from an adult dog is often painful, traumatic, and often results in complications. There is no reason to dispute that. But it’s disingenuous for them to claim that they want to dock their dogs’ tails because they’re concerned for the welfare of their animals and nothing else.

The operation to remove the injured tail of an adult dog is expensive, and during the time the dog is recovering it can’t be used for work. It’s a lot cheaper to do it to puppies and a lot more efficient from a business sense. None of that is about the welfare of a dog, it’s about the welfare of a business.

Animal welfare charities agree.

A dog’s tail isn’t just a spare body part. It’s a vital organ for communication, and dogs are supremely social beings. Cutting off a dog’s tail is not unlike amputating a human tongue.

The crux of the matter, however is that if a task is dangerous for a dog, and is likely to result in the injury of the animal, then the problem is with the task, not with the dog. The task should be changed to fit the dog, not the dog changed to fit the task.

I’m sure there are many jobs performed by humans which could be made safer if the worker was surgically altered, but no-one would propose that because it’s mad. It’s not any less mad when the worker is a dog. If your dog is likely to be injured by the things you want your dog to do, then stop demanding your dog does those things, or change the way they’re done.

You might not be surprised to learn that someone whose writing is named after a dug is a dog lover. Ginger is a rescued dog.

He was found abandoned beside an irrigation canal in Spain, where here was most likely dumped because he’s really rubbish at hunting. Ginger’s natural environment is lying on a sofa with his paws in the air, not chasing down rabbits or wildfowl. He was a casualty of hunters who treat dogs as commodities and tools of the trade.

Some argue: “But what about neutering dogs – surely that’s just as bad?” I’ve always been of the view that if you need to cut bits off your dog in order to be able to control it properly, you probably shouldn’t have a dog. Rescued dogs from Spain very often aren’t neutered, and Ginger has all his bits. It’s my responsibility as a dog owner to prevent unwanted breeding, and that’s what I do.

But essentially the issue of neutering is whataboutery.

In politics it’s the optics which matter, it’s how things look.

And it looks bad for the SNP to be seen to be voting alongside the hunting lobby and the Tories to permit dogs to be mutilated, after voting against foxhunting.

It’s an unnecessary distraction, and an own goal. On a day when the SNP should have been focusing on the Queen’s Speech and the shambling disaster that passes for British Government, social media was full of people upset by its decision to allow tail docking.

We are not helped by unforced errors from the SNP. They need to concentrate on the day job – and that’s winning us independence.