Cambridge Union avoids further scandal as ex-BNP member backs out of free speech debate

3 December 2012

Plans for former British National Party member Kevin Scott to speak at a Cambridge Union Society debate on free speech were cancelled last minute on Wednesday evening, after the Union received an “Urgent Open Letter” from a National Unions of Students campaign calling for the removal of “fascist” Kevin Scott as a speaker.

Only hours after the letter was sent to Cambridge Union Society President Austin Mahler, the Cambridge Union Society announced online that “unfortunately, Kevin Scott, from Civil Liberty, is unable to attend and will, therefore, not be participating in the debate”, less than a day before the scheduled debate.

Mr Scott, a former member of the British National Party (BNP) for 20 years and now the founder and director of Civil Liberty which opposes “political correctness”, was due to speak in opposition of the motion “this House believes hate speech is not a human right” on Thursday.

The open letter, initiated by Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ officer and backed by other national student leaders, urged the Cambridge Union Society to “withdraw its invitation to fascist Kevin Scott immediately”, expressing that they were “appalled” by the Union’s invitation of the former member of BNP to speak on the theme of hate speech. The letter accuses the BNP of having a “goal which can only be achieved by violence, the annihilation of entire groups of people and the ending of democracy”.

Mr Kiely writes that, as “the Cambridge Union Society boasts about its “historic defence of free speech and ongoing belief in participatory democracy” and “outlines their commitment “to making our society as inclusive as possible”, it is paradoxical to invite Mr Scott to speak since “fascists stand for the elimination of the democracy and all freedoms that the Cambridge Union Society claims to support.”

The letter was signed by national anti-fascist organisations including editor of Searchlight, Gerry Gable, Unite Against Fascism and other national student leaders, including Faeeim Nori, Chair of Cambridge Black and Minority Ethnic Campaign.

Mr Scott’s scheduled participation in the debate appears to have gone largely unnoticed by Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU). Students have expressed concern about the lack of attention given to Scott’s booking. Jenni, a second-year theologian from Peterhouse, had this to say: “It’s a bit weird, after their reaction to the Union booking Assange, and Dominique Strauss-Khan. Scott was part of a group which promotes racial hatred, but CUSU haven’t done anything to let people know. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of term.”

The NUS sees Mr Scott’s withdrawal from the debate as a “victory for anti-fascism in the student movement”. Matt Stanley, member of the NUS NEC and NUS LGBT Committee, said: “Fascists stand for the annihilation of entire groups of people, for the ending of democracy and all freedoms. It is for this reason that NUS has a proud history of campaigning for no platform for fascists – a legacy we need to keep building on today.”

Further updates to follow…

Gwen Jing

Photo – Rob Palmer