University of St Andrews Union Debating Society: Wikis


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The University of St Andrews Union Debating Society is a student debating society at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and the oldest in the United Kingdom.


Creation and early history

The origins of the University of St Andrews Union Debating Society can be traced to the formation in 1794 of the Literary Society. This makes the Union Debating Society the oldest of its kind in Britain, and it is pre-dated only by the Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin. However, the early impetus was not maintained and by 1833 members were criticising the loss of the Minutes Book of the Society. One of the problems faced by the Society was that neither it nor the university had access to sufficient funds to further the promotion of student debating. In fact, funds were so limited that – apart from joining and annual fees – much of the Society’s income came from the imposition of fees for lateness, absence, or the use of "improper language". At this stage of its history, the Literary Society operated under a strange mixture of egalitarianism and exclusiveness. For the first 116 years of its history there was no president of the Society and meetings were chaired by each member in rotation. The only distinct posts allowed were that of Secretary and Treasurer. In addition, all decisions were taken collectively by the Society membership as a whole. However, membership was limited to twenty-five students, was strictly by election, and no "strangers" were permitted to attend debates. The furtherance of student debating was aided by the 1846 re-establishment of a rival debating club. The Classical Society, as it was known, was soon vying with the Literary Society for the attention of the student body, and both groups added social events to their calendars. However, it soon became apparent that there were simply not enough students at the university to justify the existence of two debating societies and consequently in 1890 the Classical Society and Literary Society merged to form the Union Debating Society.

1890 - 1925

It should not be thought, however, that because the Society had now added "Union" to its name that there was any organisational link between the Society and the Students' Representative Council or the newly-formed Students' Union. The sole link was that the acquisition of the James Crichton's House by the fledgling Students' Union afforded the Society a permanent home. This, and the fact that the Union Debating Society now had over seventy members (a third of the total student population), gave the Society renewed confidence and a greater importance than ever before in the lives of students.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the early egalitarianism had begun to give way to a more rigid structure and the affairs of the Society were increasingly complex. In 1898 the Society (despite a reduction in membership) decided on the necessity of a Debates Board consisting of an Honorary President, two Honorary Vice-Presidents, a Secretary, a Treasurer, a "General Committee" of four members, a 'College Echoes' Reporting Committee, and a Debates Committee of four members. In 1910 it was decided to amend the constitution once more and the post of President of the Union Debating Society was created. This did not mean that constitutional amendments were behind the Union Debating Society. Almost as soon as the post of President of the Union Debating Society was created negotiations were commenced to allow affiliation of the Society to the Students' Union. Almost as quickly, the negotiations were abandoned in the face of opposition from the Students' Union. It was not until 1925 that it was agreed that the Union Debating Society should be affiliated to the Students' Union, and all matriculated (male) students would be members. Henceforth, the Chair of the Union Debating Society would be elected as the Union Convenor of Debates and debating would be done completely under the auspices of the Men's Union. The Debates Board ceased to exist and the title of 'President of the Union Debating Society' was kept purely as a courtesy title.

1925 - 1979

It was the hope of members of the Union Debating Society that affiliation to the Students Union would help arrest the decline in the numbers of those attending debates. This, however, would not immediately prove to be the case. Almost immediately after affiliation, the Union Debating Society was faced with a new rival in the creation of a new debating club. The "Parliamentary and Dialectic Society" had the advantage - in the eyes of some - of being a mixed-sex club. The Men's Union - which had so recently taken control of the Union Debating Society - was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic backers of the new society. Fortunately for the supporters of the Union Debating Society, and the proponents of single-sex debating, the appeal of the Parliamentary and Dialectic Society proved to be short-lived, and by 1932 the Students' Union was once more backing the Union Debating Society.

The temporary switch in allegiance of the Students' Union from the Union Debating Society to the Parliamentary and Dialectic Society prompted some members of the society to try to create more operational independence for the Union Debating Society. Consequently, the 1932 Constitution re-created the Debates Board. This time, however, it would consist of the Convenor of Debates and two Clerks to the House. This set the pattern for the organisation of the Union Debating Society through to 1979. Apart from large-scale events which were held in the Union Diner, debates continued to be held in the Council Chamber of the Men’s Union, the President of the Union Debating Society continued to be elected as Union Convenor of Debates, and the President continued to be supported by a small Debates Board.

In the 1970s, the move of the Students' Union from its original home in a medieval town house to a purpose built building provided the Union Debating Society with the opportunity to make a move of its own. The Convenor of Debates took the opportunity to move debates to Lower College Hall in St Salvator's Quadrangle, and then to Lower Parliament Hall. This has been the usual venue for debates ever since.

This physical move away from the Students' Union was accompanied by an organisational one. In 1979 there was a further constitutional amendment which resulted in the transformation of Debating Sub-Committee into the 'Debating Board of Ten'. This new sub-committee comprised the Convenor, Chairman of Ways and Means, Sergeant-at-Arms, Clerk to the House, Treasurer, Steward, two Ordinary Members, Union President, and a further representative from the Union Committee. The President would continue to be elected as the UMC Convenor of Debates but the Board of Ten would be elected in an Annual General Meeting of the Union Debating Society. It was further decided that any casual vacancies on the Board of Ten would be filled by co-option in which only members of the Board would be permitted to vote.

1979 - present

The constitutional arrangement of 1979 marked the last period of major change to the organisation of the Union Debating Society. All matriculated students and life members of the Students' Union continue to automatically be members of the Union Debating Society. There has been the occasional call for disaffiliation but - in the absence of any major interference from the Students' Union - these have not amounted to anything. Indeed, the supporters of the status quo point to the funding provided to the Union Debating Society by the Students' Association.

Today the Union Debating Society continues to fulfill its primary mission of holding excellent debates in Lower Parliament Hall. These currently occur on a weekly basis during term time, normally on a Wednesday evening. In recent years turnout at the Society's debates has been good, particularly for debates such as the annual Parliamentary Debate.

In recent years the Union Debating Society has developed a highly successful Inter-Varsity debating team. Recent successes include reaching the final of the European Universities Debating Championships in 2007 and winning a number of domestic competitions on the IONA Debating Circuit. The Union Debating Society has also had teams reach the semi-finals of both the 2007 and 2008 World Universities Debating Championships. The Society has also performed well in the John Smith Memorial Mace.

The Union Debating Society's constitutional structure has changed slightly in the last few years (with the last major changes occurring in 2007). As of 2008 the current Board of Ten comprises the Convenor/President, Serjeant-at-Arms, Treasurer, Clerk to the House, Inter-Varsity Secretary, Internal Secretary, Chief Whip, Schools Secretary, Communications Secretary and Steward to the House. These positions are elected at the Society's AGM which takes place every March within one week of the University of St Andrews Students Association General Election.

Presidents of the University of St Andrews Union Debating Society

  • 1910-11 A.J.S Pearson
  • 1911-12 David Craik
  • 1912-13 J.F. McLeod
  • 1913-14 William Sutherland
  • 1914-15 R.J. Martin
  • 1915-16 W.R. Smart
  • 1917-18 A. Muirhead
  • 1918-19 D.E. Easson
  • 1919-20 W.R. Tovani
  • 1920-21 W.C. Dickson
  • 1921-22 T. Henderson
  • 1922-23 D. Dick
  • 1923-24 J.M. MacFarlane
  • 1924-25 D. Kennedy

(From 1925 the President of the University of St Andrews Union Debating Society has also been Union Convenor of Debates. The title is now held by the SSC Debates Officer.)

  • 1925-26 William C Bigwood
  • 1926-27 A.W. Sawyer
  • 1927-28 John J. Kydd
  • 1931-32 JM Milne
  • 1932-33 Stephen W Bonarjee
  • 1933-34 George Kennedy Young
  • 1935-36 G.P. Henderson
  • 1936-37 J.E. Tod
  • 1937-38 Robin Ross
  • 1938-39 J. Martin Fearn
  • 1939-40 J.C. Anderson
  • 1940-41 Robert Lezaig
  • 1941-42 Grant Anderson
  • 1945-46 Robert Taylor
  • 1946-47 William A.B. Forbes
  • 1947-48 John R. Lester
  • 1948-49 J.A. Stewart
  • 1949-50 R.A. Anderson
  • 1950-51 Stewart T. Bates
  • 1951-52 David A. Freeman
  • 1952-53 Charles Derek Meteyard
  • 1953-54 Ronald P. Doig
  • 1954-55 Ronald B.K. MacGregor
  • 1955-56 J.D. Fleeman
  • 1956-57 W.L. McAslan
  • 1957-58 I. Ali
  • 1958-59 John MacGregor
  • 1959-60 Graeme M. Taylor
  • 1960-61 Andrew Hood
  • 1961-62 Nigel Melville
  • 1962-63 John D. Baird
  • 1963-64 Edward Stephen Woodward
  • 1964-65 James Davidson
  • 1965-66 Martin J.P. Barber
  • 1966-67 Stewart J. Lamont
  • 1967-68 Stewart J. Lamont
  • 1968-69 Gillies Clark
  • 1969-70 Allan H. Ronald
  • 1970-71 William Thow
  • 1971-72 Laurence H Twaddle
  • 1972-73 Noel W. Thompson
  • 1973-74 Eamonn F. Butler
  • 1974-75 Eamonn F. Butler
  • 1975-76 Paul Smith
  • 1976 Ronald Wyllie
  • 1976-77 Alan J. Chambers
  • 1977 Gordon Smart
  • 1978 Susan H. Wylie
  • 1978 John Harrison
  • 1978-79 Jonathan H.M. Harfield
  • 1979-80 M. Christopher Graffius
  • 1980-81 Celia M. Boddington
  • 1981-82 Celia M. Boddington
  • 1982-83 Sarah A. Norman
  • 1983-84 Benjamin D.W. Stocks
  • 1984 Patrick J.P. Burke
  • 1985 Derek Browning
  • 1986 Gavin P. Dowd
  • 1987 Andrew J. Burnett
  • 1988-89 Simon W. Gaffney
  • 1989-90 Graham S. Stewart
  • 1990-91 Emmanuel A.H. Gobillot
  • 1991-92 Stuart D.K. Pemble
  • 1992-93 Ian Duncan
  • 1993-94 Neil MacKay
  • 1994 Kirsty Gray (acting)
  • 1994-95 Jody Beveridge
  • 1995-96 Rebecca Cresswell
  • 1996-97 Justin Kitson
  • 1997-98 Marc Whitmore
  • 1998-99 Marcus Booth
  • 1999-2000 Lee Schama
  • 2000-01 Elizabeth Fletcher
  • 2001-02 Alan Patterson
  • 2002 Miranda Weigler
  • 2002 Eliot Wilson (acting)
  • 2002-03 Hendrik Puschmann
  • 2003-04 David Bean
  • 2004-05 Peter Blair
  • 2005-06 Laura Wilson
  • 2006-07 Rachael Whitbread
  • 2007-08 Thomas Cahn
  • 2008-09 Jessica Siegel
  • 2009-10 Owen Wilton


  • Graham Stewart The Union Debating Society 1794 - 1990: A History of Debating at St Andrews University (D.C. Thomson)

External links



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