On 20 February outside Younger Hall, the street was littered with abandoned placards and banners, hundreds of students lay on the ground nursing war wounds whilst those still strong enough fought on for their cause, punching the air with fervour and chanting in unison. The sound of sirens filled the air – it was only a matter of time as to when the riot police would be called in and we’d all be crying in pain from tear gas.
What I have just described might have been what happened in a parallel universe, but alas this scene might be more akin to, say, the London riots of 2011 or the Paris riots of 2005 – something that did rock their cities and cause a powerful aftershock which even now is still being referred to. I certainly didn’t expect St Andrews to be added to that list anytime soon: ‘The St Andrews riots of 2015,’ the great march that prompted change for generations after us. Just doesn’t have a good ring to it.
Instead, on 20 February at 12:15 pm, I joined some friends just as curious as me to find out what this protest may have turned out to be, maybe the same riotous, aggressive atmosphere that the news loves to glorify. Camped outside Younger Hall, the crowd we joined couldn’t have been more than 50 people, with a total of just over 100 by the time the rectorial installation had finished. Amongst absentminded chatter, a small smattering of signs and banners were being raised in the crowd accompanied by the odd but enthused outburst of solitary chanting: “What do we want?! Affordable housing! When do we want it?! NOW!”
You were probably invited to it, that Facebook event, coordinated by an anonymous ‘Saynt Andrews’ that attracted 2300 invites, with over half those “attending”. At the time it seemed the perfect way to come together and publically voice our concerns and anger over the seemingly never-ending housing crisis. A mass body of angry students protesting for the social and economic benefits of our community, a protest that would finally let the University itself know how let down we felt by them.This is the sort of thing that always accompanied my image of the whole ‘university experience,’ politically active students who, instead of working on their dissertations, were protesting against the tuition fee increase.
But it was not meant to be. The protest was originally meant for Wednesday 25th, where the majority of students have the afternoon off, rather than a rushed Friday afternoon where many fit tutorials. This push was completely unforeseen and installed only a day prior to the actual protest.
I know for one that this change was met with immediate distaste and disdain by the student body who thought that its coinciding with the end of the installation ruined a day that instead should be solely about the Rector. People turned out just to witness the shambles that it had become – and they were in for a treat. For this reason, The Sinner and other satirical St Andrews based blogs had a field day, reporting the battlefield that North Street had become with many a casualty.
The measly turn out, the badly explained signs, grammatically incorrect signs (“DON’T SAY NO HMO” and “NO SHELTER, NO UNI”) coupled with chants that faded out just as quickly as they began meant the protest was more of a spectacle than a plausible way to get something done.
It could have been something great, something to enter the history books, and yet it wasn’t. It is fair to say that this protest fell short of what could have been the biggest student movement in our classically unprotest-y town.
Then again, it did have some success. The protesters were acknowledged by both principal Louise Richardson and Rector Catherine Stihler, and talked with the organisers about their aims and desires for better accommodation. Even if the protest fell short of everyone’s expectations, at least the highest figures in the University know more about our plight and the upset we feel towards the University for not having done more. It is no longer just our problem but the concerns of the University.
The organisers should be proud, at least for organising this massive undertaking and pulling it off with some degree of success. You brought (some of) the University together in something that this town has not seen for a long time. Whilst your timing could have been better, you’ve ultimately achieved your goal in letting the University know about our anger. It may not have been the big, policy-changing riot we thought it would be but it did work, and you can’t argue with that.