Universities’ Activities (Palestine Conflict)

Portfolio Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 6 June 2024.

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Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green 2:00, 6 June 2024

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any discussions that it has had with universities across Scotland about how public money is used, including in relation to any activities that may impact the on-going conflict in Palestine. (S6O-03535)

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

The requirements that institutions are expected to comply with in return for public funding are set out in the Scottish Funding Council’s financial memoranda for colleges and universities. The Scottish Government regularly meets the SFC and Universities Scotland to discuss any issues of importance, including how we can work together to manage public spending to ensure that public money is fully focused on delivering a wellbeing economy.

The Scottish Government’s position on the conflict in Palestine is clear: we call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire by all sides. We expect universities, as autonomous bodies, to have in place measures to safeguard students and staff, and to continue to build interfaith relations on campus.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

The minister will be aware of several Palestine solidarity camps on campuses across Scotland. Supported by Aberdeen University Students Association and folk across Aberdeen, the encampment at the University of Aberdeen is calling for the university to divest from all investments relating to the arms industry. No money intended for education should be used to fund war, directly or indirectly. Until it fell at dissolution, the university was using the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, which is anti-BDS—boycott, divestment and sanctions—legislation, as an excuse for not divesting.

I ask the minister to confirm whether the Scottish Government stands by its policy note from 2014, which states:

“Exploitation of assets in illegal settlements ... is likely to be regarded as constituting ‘grave professional misconduct’”.

Does he therefore believe that no institution in receipt of public money should be financially engaged in Israel?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I am aware of the campus encampments and fully support their right to freedom of expression.

On the procurement policy note that Ms Chapman raises—I hope that she will realise that procurement is not my area of expertise—the substance of that note remains unchanged. Ms Chapman is correct to say that that means that the exploitation of assets in illegally occupied territories may constitute grave professional misconduct for the purposes of procurement legislation.

Equally, it is true that any decision to exclude a bidder from a procurement process must be taken on a case-by-case basis, be proportionate and be compliant with our international obligations in relation to procurement and trade.