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Statement on Funding of Anti-Abortion Groups at the University of Strathclyde Students' Association

Statement on Funding of Anti-Abortion Groups at the University of Strathclyde Students' Association

Gary Paterson - Past President - 2015/16

You may have read about a student group attempting to affiliate to the Union in the papers, the group have made some serious claims about attacks on free speech on campus and I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify to members and anyone involved the background to this story.

The Union hasn't received an application from this particular group to join as an affiliated Club. We welcome applications from all interested groups, and affiliation will be approved by the Clubs Executive if the application meets requirements and USSA policy. Another separate issue which seems to have been conflated with this was the attempt to change the Union's equalities policy to enable student groups to receive funding to campaign on anti-abortion issues.

The Union has advised students who are against our long-standing and democratically set stance of supporting a women's right to choose that they have the right to take this issue to a referendum of the full student body - as of yet they have not exhausted their options.

I strongly believe in the right of a woman to choose, and I also strongly believe in democracy; the Students' Union is a democratic members organisation, all of our rules and policy are set by students and can be changed by students; judging by support for this policy and students attitudes on women's rights I wouldn't expect such a change would occur, but I find it disappointing that this group have taken the public action they have without actually applying to affiliate to the Union or using their right as individual members to challenge our policy - and indeed, giving our members a chance to respond to their proposals.

However the group continues to claim in their public statements and petition that they have been banned; but the group simply can’t say they have been rejected from being affiliated to the Union as they haven’t applied to join, and their case that their free speech is under attack is not based in any reality when they have admitted to taking a policy on this issue to our democratic forums and that the Catholic Society which is affiliated to the Union has an anti-abortion stance. They are disingenuously conflating society membership and free speech on campus with access to funding in order to generate publicity for their cause off campus.

Despite being the leader of the Students' Union, I have not received any communication from this group. I spoke last year to the Catholic Society about how they change Union policy regarding funding, I told them they could go through either Parliament or an all member referendum. Since they opted for Parliament which rejected their policy change, this society emerged with what seems to be an effort to pull out every stop but engaging with members of the Union on their position. Between the letter to Court and this new petition, I have reiterated my availability, tried to engage with the group organiser on social media, and have highlighted that they still haven’t applied to be a society and that our impartial staff can assist in launching a referendum to change our separate funding rules.

I utterly reject the concept that not getting money to campaign on something is a free speech issue, Student Unions themselves are constrained under the Tories 1994 Education Act to not spend money sending students to show solidarity with striking workers and other supposed 'non-student' issues. The Catholic Society exists within our Union, they are entitled to put forward their opinion but they can’t use our funding to argue for something that contravenes the policy set through the free speech of our members – that they exist shows that it is possible for this group to also join.

The wording of their petition notes that group "has been effectively banned", however they do not qualify what they mean by 'effectively banned'; I know it means that because the Union has policy against funding activities that are against our democratically set equalities policy they have decided not to actually apply. At this stage the group are showing they aren't interested in discussing this with me or our membership and I am entirely convinced that they are using this as a vehicle to discuss their cause; I don't necessarily have a problem with that but when they make claims against the Union in the process, they should make sure their argument is water-tight. Speaking to the converted and alleging that not getting money is an attack on free speech merely crushes their case and their credibility. If this group want to affiliate to the Union, I invite them to apply, if they don’t want to join because they won’t get funding then I ask them to build their case with the members of this Union and let them decide.”

Gary Paterson,
President of the University of Strathclyde Students' Association


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