Student politics in St Andrews and scandal go hand in hand. In recent years the University has been plagued with suspicious goings-on, with the most significant being the revelation that the Conservative and Unionist Society had rigged their elections. The latest harbingers of scandal however, lie on the other side of the political spectrum, with the relatively newly formed Labour Society.
In recent weeks, the St Andrews social media circuit (i.e. St Feuddrews) has been bussing with rumours about the election of Matt Leighton (a straight, white, heteronormative male) to the position of the Labour Society’s Women’s & Equalities Secretary This election prompted Lucy Howie, the society’s Social Secretary to write The Stand’s recent article on Women in Politics. Whilst the article sparked a conversation about the issue of sexism both in student and national politics, I was more interested in Mr Leighton himself.
A few weeks after his election to the committee of the Labour Society, a friend pointed Mr Leighton out to me in Aikman’s, as he attended Tory Tuesday’s, a regular event held by the Conservative and Unionist Society. I was immediately curious as to why this new committee member of the Labour Society was socialising with a crowd of Conservatives, and my friend went on to tell me she’d heard Mr Leighton had only run for the position as a joke, never expecting he’d actually get it. Furthermore, she claimed that he was actually more of a Conservative, if not a UKIP supporter.
Intrigued, I did a little more digging, and it seemed from what I could glean from his social media that he was indeed entirely unsuited for a position on the Labour Society: He publicly uses “gay” as an insult and makes jokes about sexual harassment, obviously wildly inappropriate for a Women’s & Equalities Secretary in a group affiliated with the national Labour Party.
When news broke a few weeks ago that Mr Leighton had resigned from the position, followed by online accusations that the Labour Society had bullied him out, I decided to reach out to both parties involved and find out what really happened.
In fairness to Mr Leighton, he was very honest with me, immediately owning up to that which I had suspected:
“There was an EGM for this position, which I’m obviously unsuited for, as a cishet white male, who considers the Tories a bit left wing for my tastes. My flatmates bet me I wouldn’t run, so I wrote a semi-pisstake speech, and had a load of drinks, then ran for the position using it. I did not realise I would be the only candidate running, so I actually ended up winning the election narrowly against RON. There are also around two women in attendance at any given Labour event, so I viewed the role as basically a funny title, and I’d have no actual work to do.”
The issues surrounding his election thus become apparent. He did indeed run for the position purely as a joke, highlighting the fact that students in St Andrews just don’t take politics seriously enough. Given these groups are affiliated with national parties, it gives the world the impression that students at this university just don’t care, full stop. As a top university, the image we should be giving is of students who are genuinely engaged in politics; yet in reality, we have a fairly bleak picture supporting the stereotype of St Andrews students as the privileged elite, who are too air-headed to properly engage with politics.
Mr Leighton went on to argue that the Labour Society had treated him unfairly, stating:
“I was essentially asked to resign immediately by the social secretary, which I refused to do, with the committee concluding the situation would be sorted at the AGM if they found a woman to run. The social secretary in particular seemed more interested in getting me out than actually planning or attending events, to the point where I’d have random people in the Union coming up to me, asking me to quit. If they were asking me to go because I hate the Labour Party and everything it stands for, then fine, but at the start, these objections were solely based around my gender and race. I “resigned” from the position in the same way Priti Patel resigned from the cabinet; there was just too much pressure.”
If these allegations are true, it puts the Labour Society in the same echelons as the Conservative and Unionist Society, for manipulating the outcomes of democratic elections.
When approached, the Labour Society gave me this statement.
“The Labour Society takes equality and diversity very seriously and believes that anyone can stand for a position regardless of their background. Matt Leighton resigned from his position of his own accord, and is still a welcome member of the society.”
What actually went on in the Labour Society remains a mystery to those who weren’t directly involved, but the issue still stands that once again, a student politics group is at the centre of a scandal, and it doesn’t look like anything is going to change.