Gordon Brown has accused the SNP government of having “anti-democratic tendencies” by pursuing controversial changes to the way universities are governed that he said would demote the role of elected rectors.
The former Prime Minister, an ex-rector of Edinburgh University, said the government’s Higher Education bill could lead to the end of ancient universities electing rectors to chair their governing bodies and champion students’ interests.
Mr Brown added his voice to the objections of other past Edinburgh University rectors, including former Liberal leader David Steel, Labour grandee Tam Dalyell and author Muriel Gray, who expressed “extreme concern” about the bill.
In an open letter, the signataries attacked what they say are plans to hand more control of higher education to the Scottish Government.
The bill would standardise the way chairs of university courts are elected across Scotland.
However, critics have said it would remove the right of democratically elected rectors to chair university courts.
Former Edinburgh University rectors from the last four decades, said the government’s changes would remove an “ancient democratic right” also in practice at Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Dundee.
Football commentator Archie Macpherson, former Runrig lead singer Donnie Munro, former Hearts star John Colquhoun, neurologist Malcolm Macleod and journalist Jonathon W. G. Wills have also signed the letter.
They said: “We are extremely concerned that the Scottish Government in their proposed legislation on University Governance is seeking to abolish the right of Rectors to chair University Courts.
Mr Brown, who chaired the Edinburgh University Court as rector while a student between 1972 and 1975, said the SNP was “playing fast and loose with the democratic traditions of Scotland” with the proposed shake-up.
In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Brown said: “It cannot be right that in 2015, at a time when we are opening up public appointments to both scrutiny and election, that we replace a democratic right that ensures transparency with a new law that may mean that instead of democratic election the chair of the University’s highest governing body is pre-approved and vetted from outside by a government process.”
The government has denied that it plans to abolish rectors.