University of Edinburgh campaign group “People and Planet” are staging an overnight occupation of Old College,with the intention of pushing the University to divest completely from companies profiting from fossil fuels and armaments.
The occupation has been named a ‘Divestival’ by the society, which saw tents set up and a picnic style gathering on the afternoon. Students juggling, playing with puppies, singing and strumming guitars took up the large grassy space in the middle of the University’s Law School, while others exiting their classes gathered on the periphery to observe the development.
The occupation of Old College rides on the back of one People and Planet hosted in February, a blockade of Charles Stewart House with the same objective, where a statement was issued from the society to the University, saying that if complete divestment wasn’t achieved by 31 March, they would take further action to protest the University’s policies.
“We planned a picket last month and when we did that we gave the university a statement saying that if there wasn’t further action to divest in fossil fuels and arms by the 31st of March then we would be protesting further,” People and Planet representative Ellie Jones told The Student.
“We haven’t heard any real response from the University as of yet, we have only received old quotes and releases about their current policies on ethical investment, so we want to keep up the pressure on the university and show them that if action isn’t taken by 31 March we will be escalating the protests”, Jones continued.
However, it was unclear what escalated protests might mean for the activists on campus. According to student leaders from People and Planet, what might happen if a resolution isn’t reached by the end of the month is still being discussed. “We haven’t official decided yet, but we would be using a variety of tactics,” Jones told The Student.
In May of last year, People and Planet hosted a ten day occupation of Charles Stewart House, resulting in the University withdrawing their investment in coal and sand tar companies. More recently the University announced that it would not invest in companies which derive more than 20 per cent of their profits from the production of weaponry and armaments.
The objective of the current protest is to have the University divest from all fossil fuel and armament companies, and to issue a statement denouncing investment in these companies and on the unsuitability of this type of investment for public bodies, according to the society’s press release.
Discussing the protest last May, People and Planet representative Sophie Plant expressed positive sentiment. However she added that an example can be taken from the success of the previous occupation.
“We were pleased with the university’s response to the pressure we put on them last year during the occupation in Mal, they definitely have moved their position, by divesting in coal and sand tar companies, which is really good, but obviously our argument is that that is not enough”, Plant told The Student.
Plant also verified that the main objective of the current protest was to get the university to offer an official statement to the entire campus community.
“If you say it is unethical to invest in some fossil fuels, then it is unethical to invest in any fossil fuels. So really we are just trying to get them to make a public statement completely renouncing the entire industry”, said Plant.
Responding to Thursday’s occupation, a spokesperson for the University told The Student,“The University supports the right of all students to protest lawfully and peacefully.”
They continued: “We are committed to using our finances to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world. In line with our responsible investment policy, we do not invest in companies involved in the highest carbon-emitting industries.”
However People and Planet representatives Plant and Jones both voiced their concerns that University officials have been less then receptive to the societies’ past and current requests.
“The running trend in the last year or so has been that they haven’t really made any statements to us. They’ll have meetings with us, but it’s just to tell us about all the good stuff they are doing and how complicated it would be to divest further, how divestment isn’t a black and white argument and that we don’t understand divestment and stuff like that”, Plant told The Student.
Image: Andrew Perry