Edinburgh students last week staged another demonstration in the Scottish capital, the latest in a series of recent protests against rising tuition fees and swingeing cuts to higher education.
The march from the Scottish Parliament to the Scotland Office in the city's west end is the latest attempt by the student movement to sustain pressure on the Scottish Government over their decision to raise the annual fee cap for Rest-of-UK (RUK) students to £9,000, in line with the Westminster government's deregulation of fees last year.
Speaking before the march on 23 November, EUSA president Matt McPherson told The Journal: "It’s really, really important that we recognise that EUSA represents every student at Edinburgh University. A third of all students at Edinburgh are from the rest of the UK, and under this new legislation we are going to see their fees quadruple up to £9,000, which will put the degree cost at Edinburgh as the most expensive place in Europe. We believe that is totally unacceptable."
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A number of MSPs spoke to protesters rallying outside Parliament, but activists have since complained of an attempted "hijacking" of the protest by Scottish Labour, who are currently in the midst of a gruelling campaign for the party leadership. Current front-runner Ken Macintosh's campaign came under fire yesterday after a confrontation over Labour's stance on tuition fees saw a key Macintosh aide tell a student activist and EUSA representative to "shut the fuck up".
Peter Swindon, a former journalist and Macintosh campaign staffer, was heard to berate Defend Edinburgh organiser James McAsh after the student campaigner reminded bystanders that tuition fees were first introduced by Labour. Mr McAsh said he was approached "in a very aggressive manner" by the Labour operative, telling The Journal: "In the past year we've become accustomed to police brutality, but we're not yet used to intimidation from the Labour Party."
Mr Macintosh's campaign could not be reached for comment last week.
The demonstration drew support from students' unions across Scotland, with students from Glasgow, St Andrews and Aberdeen joining the march. Hundreds of activists marched up the Royal Mile from Parliament to the Scotland Office to express their outrage at the coalition government's stance on higher education funding.
Robin Parker, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, again called for the SNP government to intervene and force a reduction in fees. "We've got the most expensive degrees here in Scotland for the rest of the UK and I don’t think that’s what Scottish education is all about", he said.
Few of the marchers are likely to be affected by the fee rise, but many said that they opposed the move on moral, not personal grounds. Two students present at the demonstration told The Journal that "our friends are [affected] down in England, and next year when they come to university they're going to have to pay £36,000, which is ridiculous."
"And if we want another degree on top of this it’s going to cost us extortionate amounts of money and debt", they added.
Campaigners have sworn that the 23 November march would not be the last. Asked about the movement's long-term aims, EUSA external convener Stuart Tooley vowed that "this campaign isn't over", telling The Journal: "Primary legislation on this exact issue of RUK fees hasn’t even gone [through] yet.”
Mr Tooley went on to blast the Scottish Government's proposals as a “gentleman’s handshake between universities in Scotland and the Scottish government”.
Mr McPherson added that this protest is part of a movement to ensure that “we win this argument with the public so that come the next election we’ll be on the agenda, as we were on the last election in Scotland”. EUSA are also providing letters and petitions for students to sign and send to Marco Biagi who is the local MSP for the constituency that Edinburgh University is located within.
Video by Edinburgh Movie Production Society, in partnership with The Journal.