Based on reporting by Archie Batra
The St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Association (StAUCA) has been granted leave to proceed in its efforts to re-affiliate with the University of St Andrews Students’ Association.
The decision was made at a meeting on 13 February by the Students’ Association Societies Committee. At the time of writing, StAUCA is yet to vote as a society as to whether they will re-affiliate. There is expected to be a meeting to decide so on 26 February.
In a letter addressed to the society, the StAUCA committee said, “Following the difficulties we have encountered this year with organising events, our finances, and our membership, it has come to the committee’s attention that reaffiliation with the University of St Andrews Student Union has become a pressing issue that needs urgent attention.”
Director of Student Development and Activities Jamie Minns and Student Services Council (SSC) Societies Officer Kevin Phelan said in a joint statement, “This is the first step in the affiliation process for societies. In order to fully affiliate, the society is required to submit further documents and attend training sessions.
“Affiliating societies are granted Leave To Proceed when their aims and activities are unique and do not clash with currently affiliated societies. There are a number of affiliated societies that represent a broad political spectrum, but not all viewpoints are accounted for. StAUCA fills a currently unfilled space within the Union for like-minded students.”
StAUCA disaffiliated from the Students’ Association in September 2016, after the Students’ Association authorised the cash office to sell membership of StAUCA in preparation for their Annual General Meeting (AGM).
Claims were made of foul play during the AGM in May of that year, including intimidation and attempts to rig elections. Consequently, the AGM was rescheduled for September.
At the time, the Society stated that they “must be free to withhold membership from persons who by their conduct fail to respect the values of our Party.”
This was despite the fact that a society affiliated with the Students’ Association must “permit any student matriculated at the University of St Andrews to become an ordinary member of the society and to exercise the full rights of membership.”
In a statement to The Saint, Mr Sheasby, StAUCA’s current Chair, made clear of their efforts to consign these events to the past. He said “as a society, we are currently engaged in ongoing talks with the Students’ Union regarding a potential future relationship.
“Our Membership have [sic] expressed an interest to pursuing [sic] an agreement and we are awaiting their decision on the negotiated settlement. It is vital, as a Society, we follow their wishes.
“Although current Members were not students during StAUCA’s dark years, the legacy of poor choices has influenced public perception. We are committed to rebuilding trust and the prestige of our 151-year-old Association.”
In recent years StAUCA has had difficulty in avoiding controversy. The society made national headlines in 2011 when an effigy of former American president Barack Obama was burned on East Sands. In 2017, two members of the party were suspended over offensive remarks on Twitter.
The committee letter to StAUCA members goes on to say, “We as a Committee strongly believe that the society support systems provided by the students’ union, their funding, and their access to university resources such as room bookings and exposure on university websites are integral to StAUCA’s success. This is our chance to have support, security, and, overall, legitimacy in the eyes of our student population.”
The committee’s letter also explains the two kinds of membership that StAUCA will offer. A “Conservative Party membership” will cost £10 and allow students to be a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party. For £3 you can have a “Students’ union membership”. They differ in that the union membership does not include access to wider Conservative Party opportunities such as access to the Conservative Party Conference or campaigning events.
Critically, they also differ in codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures. The committee letter says that if you buy the £10 Conservative Party Membership then you will be “subject to the Conservative Party code of conduct and discipline procedure. They can be expelled/suspended from the Party at their discretion and will no longer be eligible for Party Membership through StAUCA.”
However, if you purchase the £3 Students Union Membership, the committee letter says, “All Students Union Members are subject to Students Union & University code of conducts and discipline procedures. They are not a member of the Conservative Party.”
This discrepancy of disciplinary policy is similar to those of other student political parties. Normally it is permitted so the society can remain a branch of the nationwide party. The StAUCA committee letter asserts that the Students’ Association “[has] made significant compromises to their standard affiliation procedure to ensure StAUCA’s affiliation with the Conservative Party is maintained – particularly in regards to membership, and our need to control who can and cannot be a member of the Conservative Party.”
However, this separation of disciplinary policy is not represented in the official agreement document with the Students’ Association. It says, “the Society agrees to designate the SSC Societies Committee as the exclusive arbitrator to which disciplinary charges against any officer or member of the Society will be referred and to agree to be bound by the SSC Societies Committee’s decision.”
The Saint understands that despite the conflict between the official agreement and the committee letter, StAUCA intends to sign it on the provision that those compromises will be put into place once the document is finalised.