St Andrews students attend London demonstration

This Week The Saint’s Andreea Nemes sits down with Colleen Roberts, SRC member for Sexualities and Gender, and Patrick O’Hare, Leftsoc member, who both attended the 10 November student demonstrations in London to find out about the event.

TS: How many people were at the demonstration representing St Andrews?

PO’H: I’d say there were about 15 of us – 7 of us took the bus and there were some more people we met up with down in London.

TS: What made you want to attend the demonstration?

CR: Well really it’s that I just think the budget cuts are just out of control. It’s an attack on education and I value education. I don’t want to see it go that way.

PO’H: Well the fact that it coincided with Reading Week I just thought there was no reason not to go. I went because I think a fight back is still possible and it’s not necessarily a done deal. There can still be change if pressure is put on the government and especially on LibDem MPs. It really changes the background of education for a whole generation. £40, 000 of debt is such a huge factor that puts people off.

TS: What struck you most about the demonstration?

CR: I found the commitment from Scottish universities impressive, in the sense that in theory these decisions that are going to be made in Westminster don’t affect Scotland. 5 buses went down from Edinburgh, buses went down from Aberdeen – I mean, we were on the bus all night and then walked around London for three hours and then got back on the bus at night. I also really liked how creative all the students were with their signs and costumes.  At one point an elderly lady approached us to say how proud of us she was.

PO’H: Also the support from the public. We were all feeling pretty rough after the bus journey down, but all the car drivers, bus drivers going past were all honking their horns and waving in solidarity. I think just the scale of it really surprised the organizers. We couldn’t even see the rally because we were so far back.

CR: Yeah, It was chock-a-block. I was stood in Trafalgar Square not even moving and I think they really didn’t expect that kind of scale. But it was a really great atmosphere, like a party in London – people dancing, there were bands, even a choir singing about saving the arts. There were people on top of the bus stops as well.

PO’H: You could tell there were a lot of people who had never been on a demonstration before and also a lot of 6th form students.

CR: And you have to bear in mind because 6th form students don’t vote or have any representation I thought that was a really interesting element.

TS: Were you anywhere near the areas where it was a bit more violent?

PO’H: No, we didn’t even know it was going on.

CR: We were oblivious, there wasn’t even talk of it. We had no idea because we were all just having a good time

PO’H: I don’t think it was a matter of the radical students going ahead while the more mainstream students stayed back. What I think it was, was that the people at the head of the demo went to Tory HQ because that was where the momentum took them and those further back and in the middle didn’t know what was going on. A lot of people were talking about them being professional anarchists but the impression I got is that it was a big mix of people just sort of went through. And I think its important to highlight there was no violence towards people.

CR: Something I noticed, was the lack of police presence compared to other demonstrations I’ve been to.

PO’H: Some people think they wanted to show this is what would happen if they cut police numbers.

CR: What really upset me about it is how much it took away from the success of the demo. How many people went, how upset people were, the message they were getting across. And not just students. Lecturers as well because they feel it’s a question of how we value education as a nation. I’m sad the violence took away from that.  But I think students have the capacity to understand how the media used the violence in a certain way.

PO’H: It just shows people are frustrated. When a party goes back on promises people wonder what other options there are.

CR: When politicians throw promises back in your face, lots of students feel let down. It’s interesting to see people criticising the LibDems more than Tories. You know, you hear Nick Clegg saying “oh I shouldn’t have made that promise” but it’s more like “no Nick, we shouldn’t have voted for you.”

PO’H: I also think it’s important to note that our small turnout was due in part to the lack of publicity from our Students’ Association compared to other universities like Edinburgh, who managed to get 5 buses to go. Other student associations understand it’s their job to mobilise students, get them interested, get them politicized.

CR: It reflects badly on St Andrews not to be involved more broadly. You get these stereotypes of our students in the media and it doesn’t help with widening access.

TS: What do you think the effect of the demonstration is?

CR: I think it was a great success, I got a lot out of it. It was great to see students from unis across the UK showing their value for education.

PO’H: You always get told students are disinterested, apathetic, but this shows we’re not.

CR: I think it’s going to worry the LibDems. At the beginning of the rally the NUS president named some LibDem MPs who are dependent on the student vote who have gone back on their promises. It’s showing the British public it’s important to invest in education, but it’s also showing LibDems we don’t just rely on them making policy for us, they also rely on us.

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