Scotland In Union

Julia Bennett sat down with the founding members of the very first student branch of national organisation Scotland In Union, to touch-base on all things politics, and its presence in our daily lives.

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Photo: Scotland in Union society

In  1707  the  Union  with  England  Act  was  passed  by  the  Scottish  Parliament,  officially  uniting  England  and  Scotland  under  the  banner  of  Great  Britain.  Both  nations  would  now  be  governed  not  just  by  the  same  monarch  as  established  with  the  1603  Union  of  the  Crowns,  but  also  by  the  Parliament  of  Great  Britain  (G.B.).  This  deeper  political  integration  was  negotiated  by  both  Scottish  and  English  representatives  and  spearheaded  by  Queen  Anne’s  administration.  

Over  three  hundred  years  later  the  Union  still  stands,  despite  multiple  attempts  to  repeal  it,  including  the  most  recent  call  for  Scottish  independence.  In  2014,  Scotland  had  a  national  referendum  to  leave  the  Union.  The  issue  became  highly  politicized  both  within  Scotland,  Great  Britain  and  Europe  more  widely.  The  possible  ramifications  of  Scottish  independence  were  far  reaching  and  both  the  ‘Yes  Scotland’  Campaign  led  by  Blair  Jenkins  and  the  ‘Better  Together’  Campaign  headed  by  Alistair  Darling  presented  pros  and  cons  that  impassioned  the  Scottish  electorate.  The  vote  was  close  with  just  over  two  million  Scots  voting  to  remain  a  part  of  the  United  Kingdom  and  over  1.6  million  Scottish  people  voting  to  become  an  ndependent  country.  The  voting  age  was  lowered  for  this  historic  ballot  to  allow  sixteen  and  seventeen  year  olds  to  take  part,  and  historically  high  voter  turnout  was  recorded  with  over  85  percent  of  the  electorate  making  their  voices  heard.    

More  recently,  the  UK  wide  ‘Brexit’  referendum  reignited  the  union  debate  within  Scotland.  If  the  UK  chose  to  leave  the  European  Union,  as  it  did,  should  Scotland  again  try  for  independence  and  attempt  to  remain  within  the  EU?  Many  believe  the  Scottish  National  Party  (SNP)  and  Nicola  Sturgeon  are  indeed  gearing  up  for  another  independence  vote.  

This  is  where  Scotland  in  Union,  a  nonpartisan  national  campaign,  comes  in.  Scotland  in  Union’s  goal  is  as  straightforward  as  its  name  suggests;  it  lobbies  to  keep  Scotland  part  of  the  UK  and  uphold  the  Union  of  1707.  

The  University  of  St  Andrews  has  become  the  first  university  to  create  a  student  branch  of  this  national  organisation.  The  Saint  sat  down  with  third  years  and  founding  members  of  the  St  Andrews  chapter,  Elen  Young  and  Ellie  Hope,  to  discuss  what  role  this  new  society  will  play  within  the  St  Andrews  Community.  

In  explaining  how  St  Andrews  became  the  first  university  to  host  a  student  chapter  of  Scotland  in  Union  both  Ms  Hope  and  Ms  Young  commented  on  the  university’s  size  and  diverse  student  population  as  key  factors.  

“St  Andrews  is  a  good  place  to  start  a  society,  it  is  a  small  place  and  easy  to  promote  yourself,  word  of  mouth  is  quite  easier  in  St  Andrews  compared  to  somewhere  like  Glasgow,”  said  Ms  Young.

“We  are  lucky  because  we  have  every  type  of  political  student  possible;  a  diverse  student  population  really  helps.  Our  committee  includes  Canadian,  American,  and  English  students,”  added  Ms  Hope.

Scotland  in  Union  St  Andrews  wants  to  make  it  abundantly  clear  to  the  St  Andrews  community  that  they  are  a  non-judgmental  inclusive  society  open  to  individuals  of  all  political  persuasions.  

“The  main  message  of  Scotland  in  Union  St  Andrews  is  that  we  are  a  positive  pro-Union  society  and  welcome  absolutely  anyone  and  that  is  why  we  see  ourselves  as  unique  in  the  St  Andrews  political  society  spectrum,”  said  Ms  Young.

“We  are  obviously  political,  but  non-partisan,”  added  Ms  Hope.  “Young  people  specifically  can  be  scared  to  talk  about  the  issues,  and  what  we’re  missing  in  St  Andrews  is  some  place  to  explore  politics  without  joining  a  specific  party.  Especially  without  an  independence  referendum,  we  need  a  way  to  keep  people  excited  and  enjoying  politics.”

Scotland  in  Union  St  Andrews  enjoys  a  close  relationship  with  the  national  campaign,  something  students eager  for  a  career  in  politics  could  benefit  from.  

“We  have  had  members  of  the  national  campaign  come  and  speak  at  events.  We  are  on  the  national  mailing  list  and  they  tell  us  about  local  events.  Our  aim  is  to  meet  with  them  about  two  to  three  times  per  year.  They  are  very  supportive  and  want  to  get  a  lot  of  young  people  involved.  They  treat  us  fantastically  as  well,”  said  Ms  Young  of  this  relationship.

“They  are  interested  in  helping  people  who  want  to  work  in  politics  and  are  great  at  giving  advice.  They  are  always  around  and  easy  to  contact,  even  hosting  a  Scotland  in  Union  event  for  the  general  St  Andrews  public  last  year,  which  was  great  for  town  and  gown  relations,”  said  Ms  Hope.  

Ms  Young  spoke  at  this  event  alongside  the  regional  coordinator  for  Scotland  in  Union  and  a  St  Andrews  professor.  Ms  Young  called  the  experience  “a  great  example  of  grassroots  politics  in  action.”

This  desire  for  a  political  society  devoid  of  party  affiliations  was  a  driving  factor  for  both  Ms  Hope  and  Ms  Young  in  founding  the  St  Andrews  chapter  of  Scotland  in  Union.  On  discussing  her  motivations  behind  beginning  both  national  and  union  affiliation  for  Scotland  in  Union,  Ms  Young  explained,  “I  used  to  be  firmly  affiliated  with  a  political  party  and  went along  to  a  meeting  for  that  parties  society  as  a  fresher,  and  it  wasn’t  what  I wanted.  I  have  always  been  political,  and  having  English  parents  makes  the  Union  very  important  to  me.  I  also  worked  on  the  Scottish  referendum  campaign.  I  wanted  a  political  society  I  could  be  apart  of  and  so  I  started  one  of  my  own.”  Ms  Hope  echoed  this  sentiment,  saying:  “I  am  very  political  but  hadn’t  found  a  home  in  St  Andrews.”

The  society  began  to  gain  traction  last  September  and  gained  union  affiliation  in  April.  Since  then,  membership  has  doubled  and  the  mailing  list  has  tripled.  

The  society  has  some  exciting  events  coming  up  this  semester.  One  perk  of  membership  is  access  to  certain  member  only  events,  as  well  as  discounted  tickets  on  open  events.  Students  interested  in  politics,  the  Union,  or  community  and  national  affairs  should  keep  their  eyes  open  for  Scotland  in  Unions’  trademark  ‘Pints  and  Politics’  event.

“‘Pints  and  Politics’  is  the  first  event  and  is  very  chill,”  explained  Ms  Hope.  “People  can  just  come  and  have  a  chat  and  talk,  it  is  a  place  for  people  engaged  in  UK  wide  politics  to  discuss  issues.  It  is  good  for  people  on  the  mailing  list  that  aren’t  yet  members  to  test  out  if  they  want  to  become  a  full  fledged  member.”

Other  events  of  the  semester  include  a  St  Andrews  Day  dinner,  where  William  Rennie,  leader  of  the  Scottish  Liberal  Democrats  since  2011  will  speak,  as  well  as  other  prominent  political  figures.  In  addition,  Scotland  in  Union  will  be  co-hosting  an  event  with  Students  for  Independence  in  late  October.  The  event  will  take  a  debate  form  followed  by  questions,  discussion,  and  informal  conversation.  

The  fact  that  Scotland  in  Union  is  eager  to  co-host  events  with  Students  for  Independence  only  reiterates  their  position  towards  the  SNP.

“Politics  in  Scotland  have  become  divided,  or  people  feel  they  need  to  be  an  expert  before  joining  the  conversation,  but  that’s  not  necessary,”  said  Ms  Young.

The  society  hopes  to  have  debates,  and  get  everyone  talking  in  a  safe  space  where  they  can  share  their  positions.  

“We  welcome  members  who  are  pro-Brexit  or  pro-EU,”  said  Ms  Hope.  “Our  biggest  thing  is  the  Union.  We are promoting Scotland as part of the U.K. As a nonpartisan group it isnot our place to have a position but people with all views are encouraged to talk about it.”

While the committee recognizes that some people might see them as controversial, they refute this claim.

“Because the question of independence has become divisive, if you didn’t know what the society was about, it might seem controversial. But once you have been to an eventyou will see how welcome you are,” said Ms Young. “As a committee wedon’t take ourselves too seriously, we are proud and passionate but if something doesn’t go our way can go home and sleep at night. We welcome people who disagree and like debate,” added Ms Hope.

Another aspect of Scotland in Union that makes it a welcoming and inclusive place for all is their lack of political position on any matter besides the Union. The committee seeks to get away from the notion that they are anti-SNP. Ms Young emphasised the difference between being pro-Union and being anti-SNP. She said, “We see ourselves as a positive political society.” Scotland in Union hopes to have a tangible impact on the political activism of St Andrews students. Ms Young stressed that politics do not just involve lofty issues decided in parliament, but are often most impactful on our daily lives at the local level. Ms Young stated, “We want to place value on talking about local political issues and how they fit into the bigger context.

It is not always massive issues that are the most important, local issues like hospital funding, road quality, and bin collection are important as well.” Speaking to the same theme, Ms Hope explained that the society hopes to help get people involved in politics. For example, many students don’t know that English people can now register to vote in North East Fife. She said: “Because we [students] spend a lot of time here, a lot of people would like a more tangible voice in St Andrews. Students make up a third of the towns population and it is important that people know these options are available to them.”

If you want to learn more, get involved, or have a lively debate, you can find Scotland in Union on Facebook, where the committee posts blog updates.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hello The Saint,
    At last I’ve come across young people who know about the momentous event of the Union of the Crowns of the 24th March 1603, when Queen Elizabeth I of England Died and her heir and successor was her cousin King James VI of Scotland placing the two kingdoms under a single executive political leadership. King James Governed as You have written He did not just reign like his 9th Great Grand daughter does today. In those day, it was the king and the Privy Councils who ruled and not the two parliaments. Their role was much closer to being an assembly for tax raising purposes as parliament did not control government. Did you also know it was king James who gave us a form of currency union on the 16th November 1604 by royal proclamation? Yes, the coins were minted. He also gave us our flag the Union Jack, also by Royal Proclamation on the 12th April 1606. ? It was rather like Germany and Austria being led by the same chancellor. Thus 3 year after Elizabethan’s death, Great Britain had a single name, Great Britain, a single political executive leader or form of heredity PM, a single currency and a single flag our UJ. Unfortunately, there was no single kingdom to go with it. When I was at primary school in the early 1970’s, we were taught that after queen Elizabeth’s death, England and Scotland became one country under her cousin King James. While this is not the full story as we all know, the fact is we effectively became one country, but legally remained two. Our 415 year long association since king James’s day means a very great deal to me and to you and many many people. Long may it continue for another 415 years.

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