University of St Andrews Union Debating Society
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The crest of the Union Debating Society
|Motto||Pro Amicitia Et Litteris
(For friendship and learning)
|Type||Student debating society|
|Headquarters||St Andrews, Scotland|
(All matriculated students of The University of St Andrews)
|Parent organization||University of St Andrews|
|Affiliations||World Universities Debating Council
University of St Andrews Students' Association
The University of St Andrews Union Debating Society is a student debating society at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Tracing its origins back to 1794 and established in 1890, it is one of the UK's oldest student debating societies. It competes at a high level in national and international debating competitions, and is currently ranked 15th in the world by The World Universities Debating Council. It also holds weekly public debates in the Lower Parliament Hall, which are open to all.
The origins of the University of St Andrews Debating Society can be traced to the formation in 1794 of the university Literary Society. However the society suffered from a lack of sufficient funding, so much so 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. Initially, 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 as a whole. However, membership was limited to twenty-five students, was strictly by election, and no 'strangers' were permitted to attend debates. In 1846, The Classical Society, a rival debating society, was re-established and was soon vying with the Literary Society for the attention of the student body. 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.
The acquisition of James Crichton's House by the fledgling Students' Union afforded the Society a permanent home, although the two organisations had no official ties. 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.
In 1898 the Society decided to form Debates Board, in order to manage the running of the society, it consisted of a 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 the post of President of the Union Debating Society was created. In 1925 the Union Debating Society agreed to be affiliated to the Students' Union, and all matriculated students of the university would be members. 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 students Union. The Debates Board ceased to exist and the title of 'President of the Union Debating Society' was kept purely as a courtesy title.
In 1932 the society elected to re-create the Debates Board, in order to regain some independence from the students union. It was to consist of the Convenor of Debates and two Clerks to the House. During this period debates were held in the Council Chamber of the Men’s students Union, apart from some large-scale events which were held in the Union Diner.
In the 1970s, the move of the Students' Union from its original home to a new 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 in St Mary's Quadrangle.
This physical move away from the Students' Union was accompanied by an organisational one. In 1979, the society decided to change the 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 Convenor of Debates but the Board of Ten would be elected in an Annual General Meeting of the Union Debating Society.
The society today
Today the Union Debating Society continues to fulfill its primary mission of holding regular debates in Lower Parliament Hall,. These currently occur on a weekly basis during term time. In recent years turnout at the Society's debates has been good, particularly for debates such as the annual Parliamentary Debate. All matriculated students and life members of the Students' Union are automatically members of the Union Debating Society.
The Union Debating Society has 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. The Union Debating Society has also had teams reach the semi-finals of the 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013 World Universities Debating Championships, with several alumni reaching the finals in 2013, and has also performed well in the John Smith Memorial Mace.
The Board of Ten are a committee composed solely of St Andrews students and has responsibility for the organisation and everyday running of the society. The positions on the board of ten are: 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. A 'Fresher's Rep' first year member has recently been added to the committee and is elected in the early part of Michaelmas term.
The Society has a number of traditions, many going back decades or even centuries. At the start of a debate the convenor welcomes those gathered to the current session of 'the University of St Andrews Union Debating Society, the oldest and, some might say, the finest of its kind in the world' — this brings a resounding cheer of 'hear hear'. Another distinctive tradition is the wearing of gowns to debates, whether those be the scarlet gowns of the united college, the black ones of St Mary's college or the appropriate postgraduate gown.
On the basis that the Society has always claimed to have provided good value for money (unlike other student debating societies like the Oxford Union or Durham Union, both membership and attendance at debates are free to all students), when a monetary amount is mentioned in a speech, those attending the debate cry "How much?"; the sum is then repeated, to which the audience responds "That's cheap!". The minutes are read at the beginning of each debate, but inevitably someone would rather proceed to the main debate, and so raises a point of order, moving that the minutes be taken as read; another member rises in opposition to the motion. At this stage a vote is taken by 'oral acclamation' — the announcement of which is met with a cry of 'Oohh', and after a vote the convenor generally believes to be closer than is apparent to the rest of the House (who nearly always believe that the 'nays' have it, which would result in the minutes being read in full), the minutes are taken as read, and the convenor requested to 'resign' on the basis of having effectively overruled the House.
The society's motto is Pro Amicitia Et Litteris — 'for friendship and learning'. The Gaudeamus is sung at the end of each debate, as the Board of Ten and speakers process out of the chamber. The Society also owns a sword, affectionately known as Bessie, which is said to be used by the Sergeant at Arms to protect the authority of the speaker: in practice it symbolises the authority of the House, in the manner of a ceremonial mace.
Presidents of note
- Graham Stewart The Union Debating Society 1794–1990: A History of Debating at St Andrews University (D.C. Thomson)
- Cambridge Union Society
- Oxford Union Society
- The Durham Union Society
- London School of Economics, Grimshaw International Relations Club
- Yale Debate Association
- Berkeley Forum
- Olivaint Conférence
- Studentenforum im Tönissteiner Kreis
- Olivaint Conference of Belgium