Demonstrators attempted to gain access to the GUU when it was learned that the building was scheduled to host the annual Glasgow University Conservative Association (GUCA) St. Andrews Dinner.
Approximately 50 demonstrators had assembled for the event, many in the mistaken belief that Scottish Conservatives president, Annabel Goldie, would be in attendance.
Police were called to the scene when several tried to storm the GUU, hoping to chain themselves to the union’s Reading Room where the dinner was taking place.
Eight police vans and two squad cars were dispatched to the scene in an effort to prevent attacks to the union's guests and property.
Three demonstrators, two men aged 25 and one aged 20, were arrested when they attempted to force their way through the police blockade, leading officers to arrest them over a breach of the peace.
The demonstrators were not backed by the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) or the Glasgow University Anti-Cuts Actions Network (GUACAN), who have been responsible for similar demonstrations and protests in previous weeks.
The GUU, who have traditionally hosted the GUCA evening, were initially happy to tolerate the protesters in the spirit of freedom of speech.
GUU President, Colin Woods, explained: “On the evening in question, guests for the GUCA dinner began to arrive around 6.30pm at which time no protesters had gathered. By around 6.45pm around 30 protesters had gathered outside, who were accompanied by three police officers. This in my opinion is a perfectly legitimate protest against an issue which affects every student in the UK.”
However the decision was made to phone the police when it became clear that many of the protesters were making threats of violence against members of the public and guests to the Union, a number of whom were not involved with the GUCA dinner.
Woods continued: “As guests of the GUCA dinner arrived, including elderly women, they were greeted by the protesters with a tirade of insults, swearing and abuse; this was both intimidating and served no purpose in terms of a ‘protest’.
“This continued and became increasingly aggressive as supposed members of the Conservative Party were chased along University Avenue with the threat ‘Tory scum here we come’, these threats were effectively made to any member of the public wearing a suit, a shirt and tie or as was the case on the evening, even a military uniform.”
The violent nature of the protesters, particularly toward the elderly and the vulnerable, was also noted by GUCA President Ross McFarlane, who chaired the event.
He said: “We did have a lot of elderly people who attended the event in their late 70s. I mean, one woman was on her own, turned up in a taxi, in her late 70s, she’s frail, and she’s having profanities and abuse screamed in her face by these animals.
“I don’t think that’s a particularly acceptable way to behave whether you disagree with someone’s politics or not.”
Protesters ultimately failed to gain entry to the GUU, and numbers dwindled shortly after the GUCA dinner began.
Protesting representatives from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde closed the demonstration by making speeches to the remaining crowd, in which they poured scorn on the actions of the GUU in preventing them from attacking the GUCA meal. Verbal attacks were also made on GUU President in person.
Despite the protesters' comments, the GUU confirmed its commitment to hosting peaceful events for people from across the political spectrum, with President Colin Woods lauding the union’s history of debate.
He said: “I support the students rights to protest for whatever it is they believe is right, this is true on both sides of the anti cuts debate; however, I do not believe the protests which took place on Friday were constructive in any way. The GUU is an a-political organisation which is famed for being a theatre for political debate, and indeed for debate in general. As such, it is the prerogative of GUU to affiliate as many political clubs, associations and groups on campus as possible.
“This could just of easily have been a dinner held by the Labour Party, the Lib Dems, the Green party, or any other political movement represented on campus.”
The demonstrations come as students take part in ongoing protests against planned cuts to higher education, with many rallies and occupations planned before the Parliamentary vote on December 9, which will confirm whether tuition fees will rise across the rest of the UK.
Large-scale protests have taken place in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in the wake of the announcement of the cuts, including sit-ins at Edinburgh and Strathclyde universities.
The GUU arrests are thought to be the first to take place in Scotland relating to action against the cuts, although hundreds have already been arrested in England and Wales.
SRC President, Tommy Gore, urged caution to students participating in political events, such as took place outside the GUU.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “We believe that the Glasgow University Conservative Association has the right to hold events without fear of intimidation; we also believe that the protesters have the right to freedom of speech, and the right to demonstrate in a peaceful manner.
“However, both sides have to realise that with events like this they risk alienating other members of the student body who would otherwise be in full support of them."
GUCA President Ross McFarlane was keen to highlight the success of the event in spite of actions from protesters, claiming that further attempts to hijack Conservative Association gatherings would be similarly unsuccessful.
He said: “It was a wonderful evening. Being serenaded into the events by a choir of crypto-communists was certainly the icing on the cake.
“If they think that this association will be intimated or put off its activities on campus then they are sadly mistaken, particularly if they think we’ll be intimated to see any attempt to have the rule of law replaced with the rule of mob, then we’re determined to see that utterly crushed.”
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