Scottish University at centre of Cameron speech controversy will contribute cash to event


  By a Newsnet reporter
A Scottish University whose Vice Chancellor officially joined David Cameron at an event at which the PM made a speech urging Scots to vote No, has admitted it will make a financial contribution to the cost of the event but denied backing No.
Controversy is growing after it emerged Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) Vice Chancellor Pamela Gillies had accompanied the Tory leader as he made a speech calling for people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to urge friends and family in Scotland to vote No.

As well as having its Vice Chancellor officially accompany the Prime Minister at the event held in the Velodrome at the Olympic Park in London, the University also provided an official lectern with its logo and name clearly visible.

Questioned on whether the event meant the University – a recognised charity – was backing a No vote, its media office issued a statement denying it had taken such a stance.

A spokesman said: “GCU is a non-aligned, politically neutral organisation.  We engage with politicians from all the main parties on a regular basis both directly and through Universities Scotland, Universities UK and the University Alliance.

“Yesterday’s event, which is the first in our Global Leadership series, forms part of an on-going dialogue and engagement across the political spectrum and is aligned to our stakeholder and business engagement activities through GCU Glasgow, GCU London and internationally.”

The statement also pointed to examples of an event it had hosted which was attended by Scottish Government Education Minister Michael Russell.  In November last year, Mr Russell visited the University as the 2013/14 recipients of the Outward Mobility Fund, which is now in its second year, were announced.

Asked if GCU had ever hosted equivalent events to the one at which Mr Cameron had given his speech urging a No vote, the spokesman pointed to an invite which had been accepted by Finance Minister John Swinney.

“At the invitation of GCU’s Glasgow School for Business and Society, Finance Secretary John Swinney made his first major speech on the prospects for the economy in an independent Scotland (at our Glasgow campus).  He was also introduced by Professor Gillies and it was entitled Opportunities for Scotland’s Economy.”

However the revelation that the university will be making a contribution to an event specifically held in order to attack independence, will prove controversial.

In defence of the payment, the University spokesman said: “No public money is used to host GCU business engagement events either in Scotland or in London.”

He added: “GCU will make a small financial contribution to the delivery of yesterday’s event in line with our policy when using external venues.  Any costs involved are funded entirely from commercial revenues.”

The spokesman was unable to put a figure on how much of a contribution the University would make towards Mr Cameron’s speech, saying only that it would make a “modest contribution towards venue-related costs,”.

The speech by the Tory leader called on those people living in the rest of the UK to contact friends and relatives in order to urge a No vote in this September’s referendum.  The move was seen by many observers as a response to recent surveys that have indicated a surge in support for a Yes vote.

Mr Cameron’s intervention brought renewed calls from the Scottish Government for a head to head TV debate between the UK Prime Minister and First Minister Alex Salmond.

Thus far the calls for a televised debate have been resisted by Downing Street.