It may have come to your attention that a petition has been set up by a small group of St Andrews students in which they ask the University to fly the national flag above St Salvator’s Chapel as Article 50 begins “the process of restoring sovereignty to the British Parliament” on Wednesday 29th March.
It is understandable that the group are proud of the result of last year’s referendum, but this is an act that would violate the moral duties of the university.
Flags have often been flown from above the ramparts of the iconic chapel to celebrate certain events and days; such as during the Pride march earlier this year, or to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the state of Malawi back in 2014. Why then does the above proposal have a different significance?
It is not down to the flag itself. The flying of the “Union Jack,” the flag of a sovereign state, cannot be faulted on celebrations of statehood in what is currently a part of the United Kingdom – just as the flying of a saltire on St Andrews day would be acceptable to celebrate an internationally recognised day. What can be faulted is the message that this act would be sending out in the current environment.
Even if you have objections to Pride or to an anniversary of a country’s physical independence the messages given out are non-exclusionary, so nobody in the University has any reason to fear their implications. Inversely, to do what is proposed would be to cause unnecessary concern among EU students at what is already a difficult time.
When those responsible for the negotiation of Brexit have refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens post-Brexit, not only does it potentially make the future look bleak for EU student relations, but the EU students in residence (currently around 13% of the University student population) are justified in feeling concerned about their immediate position. One of the main duties of the University is to do what is in the best interests of their student populace. To throw their support behind the unfiltered direction of the movement would be at best insensitive, at worst irresponsible. It is unclear whether those proposing this petition realise just how alienating and concerning this single act could be for some of their fellow students.
Throughout our time here in St Andrews, we are schooled to judge political and social movements with a degree of impartiality. The University has a duty to uphold this through their scrutiny of state action. In this case, to proclaim support for an action that has had a severe lack of scrutiny from institutions and opposition parties would be against everything the University stands for. Just as in the event of a Scottish independence process, if the outcome of the movement was unclear, or had lacked scrutiny, it would be the University’s role to scrutinise the path of change as an impartial academic institution.
A university should never feel constrained to follow trends of nationalistic populism. It exists independently and is in a position to scrutinise the actions of the state. More crucially for all of us, it should never prioritise the desires of certain groups of students at the expense of others. We pride ourselves on being an international, inclusive university, and this petition would contravene the ideas which bind us all together.