What do you think of when someone says St Andrews? Do you think of the picturesque beaches, the beautiful medieval buildings, or the high-quality education afforded to students by our ancient university? No, of course you don’t: You think of posh, rich people. Most students in their time here will inevitably come across some form of nobility, whether it be Will and Kate themselves or the fourth cousin twice removed of some bloke from the Middle East who owns a lot of oil and even more camels. The Adamson fills itself every Friday night with crowds of people from the Home Counties and the “Bay Area” (whatever that is) eager to give daddy’s credit card a good bashing, and every pub and shop in town seems to have become a gin distillery. So, with the bougie side of St Andrews experiencing such rich growth in recent times, why are the right-wing politics of the town not thriving as well? At a university where 30 per cent of students vote Tory, why is the vast majority of political discussion in the town run-of-the-mill leftie stuff? As someone who in the past has served as both the Vice-Chair of the Conservative Association and the Women’s and Equalities Representative for Labour (Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!), I believe that I know the answer.
The main issue with right-wing politics in St Andrews is that it’s primary outlet, the Conservative and Unionist Association (StAUCA) simply has an awful reputation. This isn’t the fault of anyone who’s still at the university, but tales of rigging elections and burning an effigy of Barack Obama live long in the memory of students. This point is ever more pertinent online, with four of the top five search results for the group being reports of Tory scandals in the local press. This means for new students, joining such a group is almost out of the question. Why make your flatmates dislike you before you’ve even started lectures?
Making friends can be difficult enough, but dating while under the influence of the right-wing is even harder. Men who enjoy drinking port and shouting at one another in a pub aren’t exactly at the peak of the St Andrews dating hierarchy; we need all the help we can get. So, picture the scene. After you’ve outed yourself as a right-winger, not only do all your flatmates hate you, but to top it off, that girl from your tutorial who already knew that you’re chubby and a bit thick now also thinks that you’re a racist. That means that before you can talk to them like a normal human being, you’re forced into explaining the merits of the Australian Style Points Based Immigration System, or why Alex Jones might have had a point about chemicals in the water turning all the frogs gay. And nobody’s got time for that.
So therefore hundreds, if not thousands of normal right-wing students decide not to sign up to a political society in order to save their social bacon. But what of those people that still choose to join up? Well, for better or worse, the people willing to handicap themselves by signing up to a right-wing political society don’t really care about what others think of them. StAUCA is therefore stuffed with people whose favourite film is Zulu, know all six verses to God Save the Queen, and write erotic fanfiction about Jacob Rees-Mogg in their spare time. While this is obviously brilliant and I enjoy it very much, no one is pretending that there’s much actual disagreement going on. This means that those new souls brave enough to attend the odd Tory event will encounter something less like the Roman Forum and more like an all-male Roman Orgy.
What could be the solution to this situation? One common idea is that there should be more cross-party discussion in St Andrews, with joint events and debates with the numerous leftie political groups of St Andrews. The argument goes that by interacting with people on the left, more people will attend events, and the the right can prove that they’re not all brandy-swilling monsters. What this point ignores however, is how the left-leaning societies are invariably just as awful. For example, the Labour Society refuse to have joint events or debates with right-wing societies, as being in the same room as someone with an opposing viewpoint for ten minutes would cause them to regurgitate all their Fiji water and quinoa. The Lib Dem Society, as far as I’m aware, is one bloke wearing yellow drinking a G&T by himself once a month; Students For Independence is run by my flatmate who never buys loo roll, and the Socialist Society are all Americans (ew).
Therefore, I don’t think the solution lies in any one student society, but in wider acceptance and understanding of the other side in politics in all areas of life. When people are nicer, more inquisitive and understanding at uni, more people will feel like expressing themselves politically on all areas of the spectrum. So go and hug a socialist, have a pint with a Tory, nod approvingly at those enlightened centrists, and remember to not judge a book by it’s cover, even if it is a Tory book.