Strathclyde hosts independence referendum for Muslim students

Mathew R Johnstone

Students and politicians took part in an independence referendum debate aimed at involving Muslim students last week at Strathclyde.

Over a hundred people came to the McCance building to see MP Anas Sarwar and MSP Humza Yousaf debate Scottish independence.

Awaz FM co-founder Shabana Naz and journalist Yvonne Ridley, famous for her conversion to Islam after being kidnapped by the Taliban in 2001, made up the rest of the panel.

52% of the audience said they would vote for independence before the debate began, with 41% voting no and 7% undecided.

Panellists took questions from the audience about the economic effects of independence, as well as British foreign policy and how students would be affected.

The yes vote increased considerably after the debate, with 68% now supporting independence and only 28% saying they wanted to remain part of the union.

Sarwar said the event was a good opportunity to engage with young people, and that there was a ‘new energy and a new enthusiasm’ around the debate in Scotland.

Much of the criticism aimed at the unionist panellists was about the Iraq war, with Anas Sarwar admitting that it was a mistake, but saying the Scottish parliament also voted to go to war, and that independence should not be a ‘protest vote’.

Glasgow MSP Humza Yousaf’s claim that his SNP party would keep free tuition in an independent Scotland was popular with the student audience, despite Sarwar’s comment that 140,000 college places had been lost under the SNP government.

Naeem Raza, a presenter and charity organiser who chaired the event, said it was about ‘celebrating Muslims in politics’.

The event was organised by Anum Qaisar, the Student Affairs Rep for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, who said the debate was necessary because ‘Muslim students are aware, but not necessarily engaged’. She also said that it was necessary to ‘question both sides’ about such an important issue.

Osmann Majid, a 4th year marketing student at Strathclyde and member of Strathclyde University Muslim Students Association (SUMSA), said it was ‘great to have events like this’ at the university.

Yvonne Ridley said that it would be ‘foolish to take any votes for granted’, but praised Yes Scotland for ‘building up a momentum’ towards independence, as well as getting young people engaged.