No protest. No propaganda. No politics?

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Normally, universities have a reputation for being hotbeds of political sentiment, protests, and ‘power to the people’-style movements. Our university, though traditional, is unconventional in this respect – not only is there a lack of left wing opinion, there seems to be a general lack of political action. It cannot be that students here are apolitical – the International Relations department is world renowned and people from all around the globe, particularly from America, come to engage with this subject. Is lack of protest due to universal consensus? Not so – there are societies in St Andrews that cater to particular political views.

For instance, the Labour Society and Conservative Society allow students to express their political views in support of the left and right wing parties, respectively. Unsurprisingly, the former has less than half the number of members as the latter; the political left has little support in St Andrews. We are fortunate to study at a university with people from so many countries and cultures, but, despite the disparity in tuition fees – particularly between international and EU students –  there appears to be homogeneity when it comes to political affiliation. We have all heard the jokes about the ‘St Andrews uniform’ of Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets – it’s part of the “it’s funny ‘cause it’s true” line of humor. The conformity in fashion sense seems to reflect a sameness in background, which apparently leads to an invariable political inclination.

In most other places, however, there are at least a small number of students who will carry on protesting, even if they protest alone. It is hard to imagine this happening in St Andrews. When people discuss politics here it seems to be in largely theoretical and intellectual terms, rather than an active engagement with political issues. Fully empathizing with other cultures or peoples and fighting for a cause that doesn’t directly inconvenience one’s life is hard, and it appears as though St Andrews students are not up to the challenge.

In short, St Andrews is politically apathetic. We are physically isolated, and this translates into a mental and emotional removal from global issues. I think we need more political angst in this beautiful Scottish town – our biggest problem here may be the recent closing of Ma Bells, but that does not mean that we should forget about the indignities happening in other places. We should burst the bubble and engage with issues and perspectives from across the political spectrum.

Jo Boon is in the process of setting up a Socialist Society, for those interested in debating left-wing issues. E-mail her at jmb35 if you would like to know more.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Oops, haven’t you noticed there is an independence referendum happening? If you seriously think St Andrews students are apathetic about that then you need to get out more, seriously. SNP students, and St Andrews Students for Independence has a very lively group of politically active students from what I gather. Why not go along and talk to them and see for yourself? And talk to some of their opposites in Better Together as well, if you can find any.

    I suppose generally you aren’t far off though. St Andrews is a closeted little place, lacking any genuinely radical intellectual vibrancy. Labour is an ideologically inert force in Scotland, probably one generation or less away from almost total marginalisation. Away from the headlines the Left is being re-invogorated in Scotland, but you won’t find much of this here in St Andrews. But if you went a little further afield, you would encounter a radically divergent political discourse.

    And anyway, I like St Andrews just the way it is thank you. Intellectual, aesthetic, relaxed, not a bad thing. Let the thinkers think, that is exactly why I come here. So back to our lattes, we have much to muse after all…

    • Chatting about the referendum? That’s the best we can achieve? There are also plenty of students padding out their CVs by organising wine and cheese speaker evenings and black tie charity events, but this is not the visible kind of activism needed on certain issues. Where is the anger? People seem worry more about the outfit than the cause.

      According to your logic, activists would destroy the aesthetic, are anti-intellectual and won’t ‘let the thinkers think’. Bit of a straw man don’t you think? No doubt activism would help preserve the character and habitats of the local area. Further, grassroots activism has no match for its ability to develop both people and ideas simultaneously.

      As for the left reinvigorating itself, is this article not exactly what you speak of, albeit one first step down a long road? Let this article reopen debate in St Andrews and stop your “closeted little place” from being a safe haven for bigotry, inequality and laziness.

      Students should be pushed out of their comfort zone. It is all too easy here to go through an entire degree and never confront the destitution faced by ‘normal’ people. We have a strong contingent of intellectual organic veggie types, but nobody is in the streets, nobody is ANGRY, and they should be.

  2. I feel that most of the articles that have been coming from the Saint in this sort of ‘commentary on St Andrews life,’ i.e. drug taking and this so called ‘political apathy’ are attempted to being limited only to St Andrews for the sheer sake of scandal. That aside, I would have to make the obvious observation that these are social phenomena that occur not only in most teenage, uni-centric lifestyles and places, but in places in which privileged lifestyles (in that sense at least) come together IN GENERAL. Look at the disillusioned youth in the face of bipartisan American politics. Whatever, complain on!

    • Perhaps because it is a student newspaper and even for the UK, St Andrews students are particularly apathetic when it comes to national issues.

      Just because this is a social norm, it does not mean that a minority population who actually give a f*** must shut up.

      It is staggering that there can be such a tiny portion of the student population from low-income families yet the financial support system here seems to be have been set up to fail them.

      • I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you entirely. As one of the “tiny portion” from a low-income background, I have never felt like an outsider, or that I have been “set up to fail”. In fact, my student loan is generous and covers both my accommodation and living costs with money to spare.

        Secondly, I think it’s highly unfair that this article, and yourself, label students as apathetic. There are countless occasions, whether at dinner or in a social situation, where I have overheard – and partaken in – political debate. Hardly apathetic, I’m sure the majority would agree. Yes, leftists are a minority in St Andrews, but this does not mean they can call others out as apathetic on the grounds of their ideological differences.

        I would also like to point out that intellectual discussion concerning politics is far more appealing to many than, as another comment put it, “high-and-mighty […] armchair revolutionaries” who’s main goal seems to be to shout so loudly that no-body else’s opinion can be heard. Your resort to expletive, presumably to “re-enforce” your point, is proof of that.

        Surely, politics is better suited to rational debate than who can shout the loudest?

  3. To be honest, the fact St Andrews has relatively less of the high-and-mighty, do-gooder, conspiracist armchair revolutionaries than other universities (such as SOAS) was something that appealed to me when I applied here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very interested in politics and political issues; but the fact I don’t have other students trying to force their opinions on me is one of the things I like about this university.

  4. Absolutely agree. This thought actually came to me when I was watching the film Starter for 10, of all things – the focal point of that film is more on rom-com antics than student activism, but when they showed one of the lead characters taking part in various protests and petitions, one of the things that struck me was that I had never witnessed (much less experienced) any protests or real participation going on in St Andrews. I don’t know if this is the case in universities generally in this day and age (the film is set in the 80s, perhaps students were more politically motivated then) but it does sadden me that St Andrews students seem, on the whole, to be rather apathetic when it comes to the important issues of the day. If I may let my rather leftist bias come through, perhaps this is because the vast majority of St Andreans are well off and have no reason to challenge a status quo which generally benefits them. Either that or the town we live in is so isolated from the ‘real world’ that people don’t care what is going on beyond what so-and-so wore to the latest ball or who saw someone emerging from another’s flat last night. Nevertheless, in a community of intelligent people, I definitely would have expected more activism. I think it’s a shame, really, that charity activism, in particular, is only interesting to students here if it involves a black-tie event or some ‘gap-yah’ jaunt to pad out their CV.

  5. In my first and second year (2010-11 and 11-12) there was a LeftSoc. Very fringe-ish but very nice people and definitely Left. Some of those people still go to the VegSoc potlucks but many have moved on.

    OneWorld Society (St Andrews branch of People and Planet) is dedicated to action for people and the environment but in the years in which I’ve been involved, we’ve pushed practical action instead of protest. Our philosophy has been “Say yes to good things” rather than “say no to bad things”.

    In a similar vein, Transition: University of St Andrews grew out of a student activist movement to face the global challenges of peak oil, climate change and a broken economy at the community level. We have been institutionalised to some degree and operate in a tame manner but our ideals are revolutionary.

    Alternative people are around, you just have to find them. We are mainly about evolution, not revolution 😉

    Joshua Msika
    Co-ordinator, Transition: University of St Andrews (transitionsta.org)
    Committee Member, OneWorld society (oneworldsoc@st-andrews.ac.uk)

  6. Thank god. Student activists of any political stripe are the most irritating beings imaginable.

    Well, apart from student politicians, but there’s a special circle of hell just for them.

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