A few weeks into the new year spells a strange phase for St Andrews, the hangover of Freshers week has faded and people are settling into the reality of actually doing a degree. As sad as this reality may be however it did come with an unexpected blessing for the crowd outside the Buchanan Lecture Theatre last Thursday. Normally home to hordes of bored Americans doing IR or packs of English students who haven’t read the book, today was a different day: today the visitors wanted to be there. Welcome to the Carnegie IDEAS Conference 2017.
A few minutes and a short introduction later left the conference ready to begin. Excitement only served to grow amongst the crowd as we heard opening speeches on ethical investment from representatives of the oil, ethical investment, and banking sectors. Despite the lack of one of the speakers the panel managed to maintain a strong discussion between members of very different worlds. Mr Welsh of SCF Partners and Mr Ditchfield of the Ethical Investment Association established a highly polarised vision of the world, where cynicism and optimism about ethical investment were both challenged to the delight of the audience. Throughout Mrs Hurst provided an element of mediation and insight into emerging markets that played into the debate. In fact, the only real issue that emerged with the event was host of the conference who was, despite flying in all the way from Germany, fairly dispassionate and disruptive to the conversation. In some ways it would have been better to allow the experts to debate straight up rather than have the event guided by someone who didn’t seem to understand the subject matter.
Nonetheless, this element only remained an issue for the first half, and by the Q and A session the conference was back on track. Questions were entered into a system via app, removing the irritating challenges often posed by moving a microphone to the depths of an audience. Questions varied from environmental issues to the feasibility of ethical investment in a world market driven by different cultures. Here it was interesting to note the different ways in which the members of the panel presented themselves. Mr Ditchfield was there to convince us about the potential gains in his field, championing the success of the INA as a sign of things to come. Mr Welsh was, as he said he would be, questioned about just how ethical an industry can be when it has such an environmentally damaging image. Although some were disappointed that he dodged direct questions about climate change and extraction he made good points on necessitating growth in emerging markets. Mrs Hurst was quick to use her knowledge of emerging markets to play down any fake news sent at her or any of the other panellists, but also kept moral responsibility at arms-length, as is expected of a firm like JP Morgan.
And so, a couple of hours later the conference ended. By answering questions and leaving many unanswered for the congregation to mull over on the way home it achieved what every conference sets out to do. As with every year Carnegie has brought debate back to St Andrews. tomorrow may bring more balls, but we’ll always look back with a smile and thing how, for once, we learned something in Buchanan.