The Aberdeen University Debater is the oldest student organisation in the University. Aberdeen Debater is also the oldest debating society in Scotland, founded in 1848 as King’s College Debating Society and followed by Glasgow in 1861, St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 1890. Since the foundation of Aberdeen University in 1495 debates have been held, but it is only in the last 150 years or so that the students have taken over the running. The Debater’s aims have always included the desire to promote free speech on campus, for that reason our motto is: “They haif said: Quhat say they: Let thame say.” This was also the motto of George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal and the founder of Marischal College.
The existence of the Debater can be traced back to 1848, a turbulent time in European history, when a number of revolutions threw up for discussion a plethora of contentious issues. Originally Debater, in keeping with contemporary ideas of study and self-improvement for young men, debate, literary and historical subjects in addition to political questions, though for much of the nineteenth century the Constitution banned the discussion of religious questions. Motions included the Revolutions of 1848; the America Civil War; the abolition of Russian serfdom; the Franchise for Women; the Irish Question; and the abolition of the House of Lords. With the turn of the century there was a growing fashion for debates to be modelled on Parliamentary procedure, the format that today the Debater retains for all but a handful of its debates.
Within the University, Debater acted as the forerunner of the SRC, until it served as the means to establish the Council in late 1884.
One of the first University magazines, Alma Mater, was established and originally run by Debater and in it are recorded the minutes of the debates.
When the students’ union moved into Marischal College in 1895 the Debater was given it’s first permanent home: the Debater beneath Mitchell Hall. As such the chamber in Marischal College is the oldest purpose built debating chamber in Scotland. The opening of the Union provided a new debating chamber and led to a merger with the Union in 1913 following the practice at Glasgow before being revived as a separate institution after the First World War. Although we view Marischal College as our traditional home we are currently using the Old Senate Room for our weekly debates.
The decline of student activism in the last couple of decades has seen University Debating across the country change. Although the Debater holds a number of guest speaker debates each year and continues to arrange weekly debates, We have become more involved in extending debating throughout Aberdeen with its schools outreach program and internal workshops.
The constitution ratified on the 3rd March 2005 can be downloaded here: Aberdeen University Debater Constitution
The standing orders of the Aberdeen University Debater can be viewed here: Aberdeen University Debater Standing Orders