“Our Union”? Or just a last resort?

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the union club 601
Photo: Lorelei Pfeffer

One of the most wonderful things about humans is our power of association. There are words that can stand alone and spring into meaning with only the flick of an absent minded tongue. From the homely joy of “Dervish” to the sudden terror of “deadline,” and even to the vehement hatred inspired by “Carling,” it is amazing how a word can forge its own tapestry of meaning. Yet, it is this very love of mine that has brought me around to a sad conclusion about St Andrews.

For you see, dear reader, something has changed since Freshers’ Week, a time when the word “Union” was associated with the mysterious Pablo, the novelty of new friends, and the pounding tunes of Hodor himself. Now it seems a very different feeling is spreading amongst the student body, since the word “Union” seems to have turned into something uglier and abrasive: it is now so often used only when discussing a last resort.

It was on one such night last week that I stood outside the Union and stared sadly towards those prolific words of the student world, “Your Union‚“ and wondered: how much do we really feel that the Union belongs to us? And, perhaps more importantly, how devoted do we feel to it?

I’ll freely admit, I began the semester bedazzled by Freshers’ Week nights out, with my newly acquired allergy of at least six types of alcohol standing as a testament to this fact. Yet, I have quickly realised that what drew me to the raging face-paint and questionable costumes of Clan Warfare wasn’t in the nature of Club 601 itself – the attraction lay in the fact that it was where everyone else was going.

You may think I’m overreacting, as even the best clubs are bad if there’s no one there, but stay with me a moment. During the recent production of “Constellations” in 601, I noticed something that is often missed about our Union’s hallowed clubbing temple. The room has enough lighting effects to act as an effective theatre, and yet the only lighting experiences I’ve had in 601 have been fruitless hunts for the occasional laser, or squinting searches for a strobe.

In contrast to so many of the student-run events in The Rule or Ma Bells, it would seem that The Union has all the ambition of the latest iPhone. People will use it because it’s easy, but is it really anything ground-breaking? This is a situation not helped by the seemingly rushed attempt at a seating area, often unused, that lies forlornly in that ignored area of the bar where you can never get a drink. A few lone chairs and a sweat-stained booth do not a “lounge” make.

the union club 601
Photo: Lorelei Pfeffer

Besides a lack of ambition that runs contrary to the potential of the venue, there is also the issue of whether we feel a night out at the Union really belongs to us. A chief example of this being how, despite a hugely successful petition, we are denied the sweet nectar that is Tennents. Instead, we are shackled with the aforementioned curse of Carling: a substance more useful for extracting information or removing mould than quenching human thirst.

Similarly, the recent attempts at Frat style events promising to “Make The Bop Great Again” have had rather the opposite effect. Many of the American first years I’ve spoken to seem to think that it is hard to feel love for a venue that doesn’t understand their culture. Frat culture can be mocked, of course, but at times it seems the Union does not understand what frat culture is. Red solo cups and beer pong are not exclusive to America, and people grow tired of the overuse of these cliches. To some of you, these criticisms may seem unfounded, journalistic knit-picking based upon small groups of people who are specks in the wider student body.

In response to this line of thinking, I would ask you to remember last Wednesday’s Sinners. On that fateful Wednesday, it seems all the small problems of the Union as a night out came to a head as the venue’s most infamous night out fell flat. To be frank, it was the least lit Wednesday of the year, despite all that buildup behind “the last Sinners of the semester.” I couldn’t help but notice that the event, which had left people scrabbling for tickets, seemed only half full. The music was a rinse and repeat of the same old tunes, and the only thing keeping me going was an ever increasing bill on my card.

the union
Photo: University of St Andrews

Where are these legendary Union nights that I have so often been regaled with by third years? Is this a case of rose tinted spectacles and nostalgia? Or is the Union getting worse?

Based on older students’ stories, “no” is the simplest answer to these questions. We have apparently been taking for granted the Union in its current form. Third and fourth years today remember the venue before its renovations in 2014. Club 601 is just two years young, a fact that is often forgotten by newly arrived students. Only rumours can describe the horrors of pre-601 days, back when the main dance area was referred to as Venue 1.

Contrast that with today’s apparent luxury. Two rooms? That’s double the previous venue. Lights? Students used to dance in darkness more impenetrable than the Mermaids Christmas Ball ticket sales. As for a bar, we may complain about long waiting times to get served, but in reality we have it easy. I have been told that before 601, people were known to live out their lives and die before being able to pay.

Jokes about the dark days aside, Club 601, for all its flaws, is apparently a vast improvement on what we had before. Despite all this, students regularly complain about the Union. Compared to other Student Unions (such as the neighbouring DUSA in Dundee), our SU may seem meagre. Even though it’s crowded more often than not, people love to criticise the decor and small size.

The Union did not respond to The Saint’s request for comment.

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