Editorial: Universities Scotland must take a stance

Published

Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Georgina Hayes
Editor

Academics, researches and students from the EU are facing an existential threat as far as working, studying and living in the UK is concerned – is this not severe enough for Universities Scotland to put its head above the parapet?

Last month, the University hosted a Brexit Summit on Colleges and Universities, covered by this paper. The event was preceded by a joint statement from the Scottish Government, Universities Scotland and other concerned parties in the higher and further education sector. The event had a clear message: Brexit will be a disaster for universities, and the only desirable outcome of the ongoing negotiations would be remaining in the European Union.

The problem with the summit, though – and with the signers of the statement – is that it failed to commit to any action aimed at stopping Brexit altogether.

Yes, Scotland is a very inclusive place that wants to remain as open to EU citizens as possible, as so many of the speakers at the summit reiterated. Yes, Brexit poses an existential threat to the funding, outreach and output of Scottish universities. Yes, the campaign to leave the European Union was built upon bigotry, lies and the sneering at facts. No, Universities Scotland will not take a stand and officially endorse a People’s Vote and/or a remain option. The highly politicised nature of the summit – and indeed the joint statement – was a prettily presented set of principles, with no assurances that any meaningful action would be taken to act on them.

Universities Scotland is the representative body of Scotland’s nineteen higher education institutions, University of Glasgow included. The header on its website literally describes itself as “the voice of Scotland’s universities”, which is questionable to the point of ludicrousy when you consider that they are currently failing to stand up for, and adequately represent, a large and invaluable portion of its staff and students.

The message from EU academics and students has been clear: Brexit has made them feel unwelcome, it has complicated and hindered their ability to study and work in the UK, and it casts an insidious shadow of uncertainty on their futures. At the Brexit summit, University of Glasgow Professor Nikolaj Gadegaard spoke of the growing hostility he has felt as an EU citizen since the 2016 referendum, only half-joking that he wondered if his flight to Denmark for himself and his family would be a one-way ticket.

Although most of us with a shred of compassion will feel outrage and sadness on behalf of our European friends and colleagues, there’s no way we can fully empathise because we simply aren’t threatened by the same reality: our right to work, study and live in a place that we call home is not being existentially threatened, and we didn’t just witness a referendum that was essentially a vote of approval on our right to exist in a certain place. We can’t possibly imagine how that must feel.

What we can do, though, is everything in our power to stop Brexit from becoming a reality. We can speak out against the bigotry that fuelled the Leave campaign in the first place, and we can refuse to accept the result of that campaign. Our sympathy and collective outrage means relatively little if we don’t have the courage to action it in a way that actually helps our European friends and professors.

There is no reason for us to accept or respect the result of the 2016 referendum because it never should have happened in the first place. Even if you’re willing to overlook the fact that the entire Leave campaign was built on a myriad of lies and bigotry (and the fact that half of its leaders and donors are currently under criminal or electoral investigation), referendums in general are an abrogation of political responsibility. We lend power to our politicians on our behalf because they have the time and expertise to make decisions that the average populace can’t; it only takes one watch of Question Time or a debate with a Brexit-voting dad to see that most voters don’t understand the EU, its structures and functions enough to be able to cast any meaningful or informed vote on whether we should remain or leave.

The two most common reasons for voting to leave the EU in 2016 were immigration or the “unelected bureaucrats in Brussels”. Now, I’m just going to say what a lot of us think but won’t utter for fear of being labelled part of the “liberal elite”: let’s not pretend that a majority (not all) of Leave voters aren’t racist. Immigration has been proven, in no uncertain terms, to be a good thing for our country: we benefit economically, and simultaneously we become a more open and diverse place. Isn’t it a little curious that most of the places with the highest concentration of immigrants – cities – actually voted Remain? I don’t see why we’re falling over ourselves trying to show reverence to the voting intentions of bigots, sorry.

Now onto the “unelected bureaucrats in Brussels” part. It sounds like the more educated and reasonable reason for voting to leave, but it’s actually, quite literally, factually untrue. The entire EU superstructure works pretty similarly to the way our own government and Parliament works, simply on a much larger and subsequently more complicated scale. There are civil servants, of course, but our entire Government here depends on them too – are we really going to respect the voting intentions of people that don’t seem to understand the function of civil servants?

There’s no need to hold some immense, afraid-to-call-it-what-it-is reverence to a referendum result built upon lies, misunderstandings, bigotry and electoral fraud. So why, then, won’t Universities Scotland actually stand by its staff and students by backing a People’s Vote and the option to remain? Academics, researchers and students from the EU are facing an existential threat as far as working, studying and living in the UK is concerned – is this not severe enough for Universities Scotland to put its head above the parapet?

Co-signing a joint statement of principles is all well and good, but the highly politicised nature of the statement does nothing for those it seeks to help if they do not officially support a People’s Vote and Remain option. Organisations, businesses and politicians everywhere have done as much – by failing to do the same, Universities Scotland are doing nothing short of rolling over and accepting the onslaught of abuse and uncertainty faced by EU citizens that Brexit has caused.

The Glasgow Guardian urges our readers, if you are a student or staff at a Universities Scotland-affiliated institution, to email the organisation (https://www.universities-scotland.ac.uk/get-in-touch/) with the request that they officially back a People’s Vote and/or a remain option.

We would also urge our readers to contact your local MP urging them to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal and support a People’s Vote. You can do this in under a minute by using https://www.bestforbritain.org/demand_your_vote .