The announcement of candidates for this years Rectorial election contains the usual mix of famous and influential names from the worlds of politics, sport, entertainment and business. As is typical of St Andrews elections, banners are flying, posters printed and hustings loom, with a fierce, fun but short campaign well under way.
Lord Michael Forsyth, Baron of Drumlean, a St Andrews almuni, is one of the nominated, and has hit the trail hard, meeting students around town since the beginning of the week. The former Secretary for Scotland under John Major’s Conservative government in the mid-1990s, Lord Forsyth has since been elected to the Privy Council of government advisers, and received a knighthood as well as a seat in the House of Lords in 1999.
Following his time in the Commons, Forsyth has become a major figure in the financial sector, currently serving as Deputy Chairman of Investment Bank Evercore Partners, having previously held executive positions in JP Morgan Chase. With a host of charitable endeavours and fund-raising successes, he has pledged in his campaign briefing to repay the University which set him on this path by campaigning for investment from businesses and donors, which is “in dire need.”
However, this path from “rough edged” student to Lord has not been plain-sailing, and his record in parliament has come under fierce scrutiny in the past. Prior to the 1997 General Election, in which Forsyth lost the Stirling seat he’d held for fourteen years to Labour, he became the focus of a campaign from gay rights group OutRage, which looked to remove him from his seat in light of his record on equality of sexualities. At the time, he was seen to have avoided a vote on allowing homosexuals to join the military, while voting in favour of a restriction on local councils “promoting homosexuality.” He lost his seat, though the effect of the campaign is hard to discern, given the landslide victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour renaissance.
Subsequently, his voting record in the House of Lords does little to refute the claims of homophobia levelled at him by OutRage. Aggregate website www.publicwhip.org.uk, in tandem with www.theyworkforyou.com which tracks the votes of individual MPs and Lords and attributes them a score on policy ‘areas’, lists Lord Forsyth as having “voted strongly against” equality of rights for homosexuals. This is calculated from a record largely of absences from key votes, including two sexual orientation equality votes in 2007, in which attempts to amend or annul the original granting of rights were defeated. Similarly, Lord Forsyth voted in favour of an amendment in 2008 which would require both a mother and a father to be present before granting IVF treatment to women, which some argue would restrict the rights of single and lesbian women. This too was defeated, while his majority vote in a Lords amendment to the Sodomy: Scotland Act to hold the age of consent for “homosexual acts” at eighteen was eventually overturned by the Commons.
This is complex parliamentary business, and the methodology of the website in creating a ‘score’ for every MP and Peer is at once effective and perhaps misleading; but certainly this self-proclaimed watchdog of politicians and their activities suggests that his record is one of opposition to gay rights.
The position of Rector of the University is one of representation, acting “on behalf of the students of St Andrews and presiding over the University Court, the supreme governing body of the University.” Lord Forsyth and those supporting his campaign feel the long time politician has the credentials to fulfil this role, but it remains to be seen whether his somewhat controversial stance will play on the minds of voting students.