The University has described the comments by members of the St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Association, revealed by The Saint today, as “puerile and abhorrent.” They could not be more correct.
The comments range from the insensitive, to the offensive, to the completely bizarre and it is heartening to see the Scottish Conservative party take such swift action in suspending the students in question. To refer to trans women with derogatory slurs, and to refer to trans students who make use of gender neutral bathrooms as “men in dresses” is simply hateful. Trans students have a right to our respect and our support. In The Saint’s view this extends to gender neutral bathrooms, which we supported when first announced and continue to support now. To endorse the extreme right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (who, as our story noted has compared the Quran to Mein Kampf) and the founder of the anti-Muslim organisation the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, also shows a startling level of acceptance, or even support, for Islamophobia. Endorsing a statement referring to Hillary Clinton as a “cackling… witch” also reveals an underlying misogyny. When are male politicians referred to as “witches”? It is an inherently gendered insult and deserves to be called out as such. The extreme comments on abortion, climate change, and terrorist attacks also betray a worldview at the fringes of the far right in this country.
These views are not only offensive, but they are far to the right of any mainstream views within the Conservative party. Especially under Ruth Davidson in Scotland, the Conservative party has made great strides from the days when it defended moves to restrict the rights of LGBT+ people, for instance. If the Conservative party wishes to remain in tune with the values of modern Britain, it should continue to make clear that views such as those revealed today are not welcome in their organisation.
There will be those who argue that these students have every right to free speech and to say and think what they like. Indeed they do. However freedom of speech also extends to the many who find these comments, as we do, repulsive and believe they should be called out as such. Freedom of speech is not freedom from critique, and it is certainly not freedom to express bigotry without condemnation.