The Students’ Association have warned against new anti-terror legislation currently being debated in parliament, calling it “Scottish McCarthyism.”
If passed, the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill – sponsored by the Home Secretary Theresa May –would place restrictions on UK higher education institutions, making it their duty to prevent students from being drawn into terrorism.
Though Scottish universities would not be affected by the bill at present, it is expected that the bill will be extended to cover Scotland soon. The Scottish Government have issued their own Prevent Duty Guidance which echoes the proposals of the bill.
The Students Representative Council (SRC) passed a motion to oppose the legislation last night. It stated: “The guidance has the potential to create an atmosphere that is not only harmful to our university community but actually undermine its security by compromising current relationships and avenues for information exchange.”
Students’ Association president Pat Mathewson, who presented the motion, said that the language of “duty” in the bill was problematic. He expressed concerns that students’ unions would be forced to take part in this.
“The guidance poses significant threats to academic freedom,” the motion continued. “Firstly, though policies that could restrict the ability of institutions to host certain events or speakers (pg.19). And secondly, through intrusions that would encourage the use of IT filters on networks and campuses.
“The guidance advocates inappropriate intrusions on to the management of prayer rooms and other faith related facilities.”
The Students’ Association has also launched a petition against the bill, with the tagline ‘I’m a student not a spy.’
“Forthcoming legislation threatens to create a culture of surveillance and suspicion within Scottish education,” the petition states.
“We the undersigned, as members of further and higher education institutions, believe our ability to help shape Scotland’s future relies fundamentally on the strength of our student and academic communities.
“A Scottish McCarthyism now endangers these ‘strong, resilient and supportive communities.’
“We are students and scholars – not spies. Universities and colleges are at their best when they can debate and challenge the world’s most intractable and offensive problems, and speak truth to power. This legislation threatens to silence that most vital voice.”
The petition had 232 supporters at the time of writing.
Academics in both Scotland and the wider UK have already expressed their strong opposition to the proposals, fearing they will infringe upon academic freedom.
In a letter published by The Guardian, leading academics said: “We are deeply concerned that the counter-terrorism and security bill currently being debated in parliament will place an unlawful and unenforceable duty on educational institutions and staff.
“This proposed legislation is both unnecessary and ill-conceived, and we are calling on the government to urgently rethink its proposals and take appropriate steps to ensure that academic freedom remains uncompromised by any efforts to tackle extremism in the UK.”