Student banned from university union for saying 'Rule Britannia' during debate

18 March 2021, 09:20

'Rule Britannia' has sparked controversy in recent years
'Rule Britannia' has sparked controversy in recent years. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

A student has been banned from a university union for saying 'Rule Britannia' during a debate about the British Army.

19-year-old Elizabeth Heverin was reprimanded by officials at Aberdeen University Students’ Association after using “discriminatory or racist language”.

It came after a fellow student complained about her use of the phrase.

The student referenced the song in a virtual hustings on the British Army's presence on UK university campuses, and was subsequently banned from all students’ union buildings, debates and services for two weeks.

Ms Heverin told The Telegraph: “It feels like I’ve been prosecuted for the crime of being patriotic.

“It’s scary to think where freedom of speech at the university will go from here.” 

The online meeting, which was held in December, questioned the presence of military personnel on campus and asked international students if it would make them feel uncomfortable due to links with colonialism.

Ms Heverin, a first-year history and politics student, then asked: “If the British military makes them feel uncomfortable why did they come to a British uni?”

In a second post, she wrote: “Rule, Britannia.”

Another attendee later lodged a formal complaint to students’ union authorities, and a disciplinary investigation was launched.

Union officials told Ms Heverin: “The language used by you, in particular the use of the phrase ‘Rule Britannia’, could be construed as potentially discriminatory”.

However, they were unable to determine whether there was “deliberate racist intent”.

Their findings also said that she had breached three parts of a bylaw by failing to “conduct herself in a manner that shall not offend others and shall not use foul and abusive language, either orally, in writing or by expression or by engaging in any form of discriminatory or anti-social behaviour”.

Last summer, 'Rule Britannia' sparked controversy during a row over their perceived ties to imperialism.

Some of the lyrics considered contentious in the song include the lines: "Britons never, never, never shall be slaves", and: "The nations, not so blest as thee / Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall / While thou shalt flourish great and free: The dread and envy of them all."

A row went on for several weeks over whether the song should be played at the Last Night of the Proms - the BBC initially planned to perform the song without lyrics, before U-turning following a heated debate about its decision.

The AUSA meeting eventually resolved to overturn the policy banning military organisations and personnel, including the Aberdeen University Officer Training Corps, from AUSA buildings or events.