Socialist MSP talks his way into Oxford

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SCOTTISH Socialist firebrand Colin Fox is preparing to take the bastions of privilege by storm after being invited to speak at the Oxford University Union.

The world’s most famous debating society - often seen as a testing ground for future Prime Ministers - has asked the Lothians list MSP to help propose a motion lamenting the decline of student militancy.

And speaking on the same side will be disgraced former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken.

The union is expecting a capacity 500 audience for the debate next month - and Mr Fox is tipped to win the vote.

By speaking at the union, he will be following in the footsteps of many world-famous figures, including black militant leader Malcolm X, former American president Richard Nixon, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and American football star OJ Simpson.

Oxford Union president Edward Tomlinson said: "We are very pleased Mr Fox is able to come and speak in our debate."

The MSP was invited after his name was suggested by a Scottish student union activist.

But at first Mr Fox thought it was a joke. "I was told there had been a phone call from the Oxford Union, asking if I would come and take part in a debate. I thought it was a set-up, or it was because Tommy Sheridan couldn’t make it, but then I found out it was neither of these. I was delighted - it’s quite a famous forum for debate."

Ushers at the debates wear evening dress and guest speakers are "politely requested" to wear black tie, but Mr Tomlinson said there was no problem if they chose to dress otherwise. Mr Fox said in view of the topic for debate, he would probably opt for jeans and his Che Guevara T-shirt.

And he said he would take the opportunity of a dig at former student militants Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Education Secretary Charles Clarke, both former presidents of the National Union of Students who are now key supporters of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s plans to bring in variable top-up fees at English universities.

"They were only able to be active in student politics because they didn’t have 10,000 of debt hanging round their neck and they didn’t have to rush off to work in McDonald’s," said Mr Fox.

"Now they are kicking the ladder away from the people below them.

"It may be easier to get to university nowadays, but it’s much more difficult to stay there."

Mr Fox was a mathematics student at Strathclyde University for a year before switching to Bell’s College, Hamilton, where he trained to be an accountant.

"I don’t know if militancy of attitude has changed," he said.

"But the opportunity to be militant is denied to today’s students. They’re too busy running from class to workplace so they can pay their way."

Mr Fox said he was surprised to learn a former Tory Cabinet minister, jailed for perjury, was to be speaking alongside him.

"He could give me some information for my work on the justice committee," he said.

And Mr Tomlinson said he had also been surprised Mr Aitken was speaking up for militancy. He was narrowly defeated for the presidency of the Oxford Union by Marxist Tariq Ali in the 1960s.

"I was expecting him to say he had had it up to here with student militancy," said Mr Tomlinson.

Most of the other speakers have yet to be confirmed.

But Mr Tomlinson said he expected a "fun evening". "It should be lively," he said.

"This [militancy] is an issue of deep concern to students with all the controversy over higher education funding.

"I imagine it will be carried, even if only through a sense of romanticism. Maybe they have heard from their parents about the militancy of old and they won’t want to disappoint them."