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Join the debate: The excellent opportunities awaiting student activists

By Nicholas Budgen

After settling back into the swing of university life, Nicholas Budgen brings you a run down of the best ways to get involved in politics at the University.

Our University has a proud history of student activism: its societies have been instrumental in training some of the nation’s leading politicians. From 1981 to 1982, Charles Kennedy served as President of the University Union, and subsequently won the British Observer Mace for University Debating. Nicola Sturgeon, who later became First Minister, was an active member of the SNP’s youth wing, whilst studying at the University. The Gilmorehill Campus remains a vibrant marketplace of ideas, with its societies offering excellent opportunities for budding politicians to network and develop their skill set.

UofG is recognised internationally for its outstanding debating societies. Under Charles Kennedy’s leadership, the University Union held the inaugural World Universities Debating Championship in 1981. Since then, its speakers have been declared World Champions on five occasions. Attending the recent “show” debate – on whether to scrap the House of Lords – has been among the highlights of my first semester as a second-year student. The three students who argued against abolishing the Lords easily held their own when facing the seasoned politicians speaking for the Proposition. Speaker Training, offered throughout the semester, presents the ideal opportunity for newcomers to practise parliamentary debating. Each discussion follows the structure of a House of Commons debate; it begins with the assigned Prime Minister moving the motion, followed by the Leader of the Opposition offering rebuttal. GUU Debating also hosts regular events in collaboration with the Dialectic Society. The Dialectic Society traces its history back to the University’s founding in 1451, making it the oldest on Campus, and it offers numerous exciting social events for discussing politics and philosophy – sometimes even with academics and politicians at panel events.

Those interested in public speaking should also consider joining the University’s Model United Nations (GlasMUN). Its debates, which take place every Thursday evening, enable students to speak on pressing geopolitical issues on behalf of UN member states. I spoke to Alan Rubin, the MUN’s Vice President and Welfare Officer, who stated that its inclusive approach has been key to maintaining a lively social calendar. GlasMUN welcomes students of all abilities and has subsidised trips for members to speak in cities such as London and Madrid (Model United Nations (GlasMUN). The fruits of this work were evidenced at the recent GlasMUN Conference, which took place in the University’s JMS Building in March. Delegates were treated to a jam-packed itinerary, the most important of which being the mock parliamentary debates. Alan was delighted at the event’s success and looks

forward to next year’s conference. These events have earned the MUN considerable acclaim; it has since been nominated for Academic Society of the Year.

A newer movement in the university is Glasgow Against Arms and Fossil Fuels (GAAF). GAAF is a student-led group campaigning for the University to halt all investment in fossil fuels and nuclear weapons. In 2014, the University committed to cancelling its £18 million investments in fossil fuel firms by 2024. But activists argue progress has been much too slow, with the University investing £5.5 million in the fossil-fuel industry and £6.8 million in arms, as of February 2023. The group also advocates banning all firms from the oil, gas, coal, mining, and arms sectors from recruiting via the University’s careers site and jobs fairs. Its cause has received considerable support from students, with over 100 people signing its petition demanding divestment from these industries. GAAF posters, which bear the slogan “Glasgow money, Glasgow values,” have also become ubiquitous on Campus.

On his first installation as UofG Rector in 2008, Charles Kennedy remarked, “When I look back over the last thirty years, so much of my life… has grown from the experience that came from this institution.” That sentiment is as true in 2023 as it was in the early 1980s: regardless of your political persuasion, you will no doubt find a welcoming society that supports your development as an activist. Charles would be proud.


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