Alex Salmond’s Alba event prevented from taking place in Uni lecture theatre
Sports club apologises for booking lecture theatre as ex-first minister decries ‘sinister attack on freedom of speech’
By Anttoni James Numminen
Outside The MacRobert building. Photos courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen.
Alex Salmond’s Alba Party ‘roadshow’ stalled unexpectedly on Friday 22 April when he was forced to hold his event outdoors next to a University of Aberdeen car park.
Attracting around 50 people, including 10 students, some of whom were demonstrators, the detoured event saw the former Scottish first minister make his pitch to potential Alba supporters ahead of next month’s local elections. It was also a launch of the 'Wee Alba Book' which was handed out for free.
Prior to the event, a number of students expressed concerns to the University, AUSA, and The Gaudie, about the presence of Alba on campus, which has been labelled as having transphobic elements by some.
Robert Reid and Alex Salmond. Courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen.
Originally meant to take place in the University’s MacRobert lecture theatre, The Gaudie can reveal that the booking was withdrawn at the last minute by the club that made the booking.
Co-host of the event, 4th-year student and local Alba Party candidate, Robert Reid, told The Gaudie the booking was made by the Aberdeen University Golf Club because “one of my good friends is president of the society, so as a personal favour he spoke to the committee, and they were happy to go ahead with it.”
But regarding the cancelling of the booking, Reid said that as the club “started to receive lots of press attention” they considered the impact on the club’s reputation “so, with my blessing, they withdrew support for the event.”
Photos courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen.
However, in a statement emailed to The Gaudie earlier that day, Andrew Purdie, president of the Golf Club, apologised for booking the event, saying: “The AUSA Golf Club have withdrawn the room booking for the proposed event this evening. We did not have a full understanding of the political nature of the event at the time of booking and would not have submitted the request had we had a clear understanding of the situation.
“We are an inclusive club that supports the diversity of our members. Golf is a sport enjoyed by a variety of people no matter their background and identity, and we are very proud to offer accessible golfing for all students.”
The Students’ Association AUSA also stepped in, saying they had been in touch with the Golf Club and “support[ed] their decision to withdraw the room booking”.
AUSA’s student president, Alisa Koester, told The Gaudie: “AUSA stands in full solidarity with the trans community who has been concerned about the event. We would like to reiterate our encouragement to students to sign the petition to ban all forms of Conversion Therapy.”
The event saw Salmond address a wide range of issues, linking the cost of living crisis, Westminster politics, and energy independence as part of his argument for an independent Scotland.
However, the Party’s stance on trans rights, conversion therapy and the Gender Reform Act (GRA) was raised at the event by concerned students.
Salmond responds to a question from students. Courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen.
“I think we’re extremely grateful for things like free education, free prescriptions, and these kinds of wonderful things. But a nationalist party, I feel, should represent all Scots. It does strike me as odd that amongst all these wonderful things, your Party stands to further erode the rights of trans people,” Salmond was told by a student.
He responded by saying: “Well, we don’t. I suspect we have a disagreement about the GRA, we don’t have a disagreement about conversion therapy. As was said by Robert, I was the first minister that introduced equal marriage in Scotland. When I introduced the legislation in 2011, it was controversial, but by the time I talked it through in 2014, it passed by about a hundred votes to twenty in the parliament.
“My concern about GRA is that we’re looking to extend equality, which is an honourable and decent thing to do. But it has to be balanced against the entrenched rights of other groups in society. And many women in Scotland, believe that the equalities act of 2010 gave them protected spaces […] And they see unfettered self-identification as a challenge to these established rights. And you can understand why.”
Photo caption: Placard displayed at the event. Courtesy of AJN.
Though both Salmond and Reid said they were please about the conversation they had with the activists, not everyone seemed quite as pleased; The Gaudie overheard one member of University staff describe the activists as “trans rights Taliban”.
The local candidate Robert Reid also got into an argument with the Politics and International Relations (PIR) society, claiming they were behind “abusive messages” sent to the event’s booking page in the form of booking requests. However, the PIR society vehemently denied the claims for which no evidence appears to have been produced.
After the event, the former first minister sent out a press release decrying the “attempt to cancel a meeting on The Wee ALBA Book in Aberdeen University” as a “sinister attack on freedom of speech”. This is despite the Golf Club choosing to withdraw its booking of the lecture hall.
On Saturday, a University of Aberdeen spokesperson told The Gaudie: "The University is aware that the Student Association’s Golf Club cancelled a planned event within one of our buildings on campus on Friday evening.”
Aberdeen University students are also standing in May’s elections for the Scottish Green Party, Aberdeen Labour, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, and the Liberal Democrats.