msnbc.com
updated 11/23/2011 9:22:02 AM ET 2011-11-23T14:22:02

An effigy of Barack Obama was burned by members of a Conservative party college student association in Scotland, after its committee chose the U.S. president over the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, a student official told msnbc.com.

The incident took place on a beach in St. Andrews on Friday as part of a tradition by the University of St. Andrews Conservative Association that has seen effigies of former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown burned and former South African President Nelson Mandela hung among others.

A source told msnbc.com that a number of the committee members were Americans who support the Republican party.

St. Andrews University, which was founded in 1413 and where Prince William and Kate Middleton both studied and met, said it planned to speak to the Conservative group about the "very understandable concerns" over the incident.

In a telephone interview, Patrick O'Hare, the student official, said the Students' Representative Council had voted by 13 to 2 Tuesday night in favor of a motion that burning effigies of public figures was not constructive.

O'Hare described the burning as "immature" and "potentially very offensive," particularly as the effigy was of "America's first black president."

Five candidates to burn
He said he had been told by a person in a position to know that a vote had been taken by the Conservative group's committee "as to who they would burn."

He told msnbc.com the identity of his source but provided the information on the basis that the person was not identified.

"There were five candidates including Gadhafi," O'Hare said. "It was decided upon — perversely democratically — that Obama was the one who was going to burn."

O'Hare is president of the Students' Association, of which the Conservative group is a member along with left-wing and other political societies.

St. Andrews University issued a brief comment in an email. "We are aware of reports of this incident and have asked to meet the society president to discuss the very understandable concerns which these reports have raised. Until that meeting has taken place, it would be inappropriate to make further comment," the statement said.

A student walks in the grounds of St Andrews University, Scotland.
David Moir  /  Reuters, file
A student walks in the grounds of St Andrews University.

Marshall, the Conservative Association president, told the BBC that he was sorry the incident had happened.

"President Obama is an important ally to the British government. It was a stupid thing to do and we apologize for any offense caused," he said.

The Conservative Association's website was down Tuesday night, according to a university source. It was also down Wednesday morning.

It is unclear who was actually responsible for the burning of the effigy.

'Disgusting'
James Mills, former chairman of the university's Labour party student society, told the BBC that the burning was "disgraceful." Mills' effigy has been also burned in the past.

"I can't imagine any other student activists of a major political party would behave in this manner," Mills told the BBC.

"It's disgusting and I hope the Conservative Party and the prime minister completely come out and condemn this obscene act," he added. "The last thing a truly modern party should be doing is burning an effigy of anyone let alone the first black president of the USA, one of our closest allies."

John Park, a Scottish Labour party lawmaker, whose constituency includes the university, told the U.K.'s Press Association that the burning was "gravely offensive and way beyond a student prank."

"Thousands of young people yearn for the chance to study at such a prestigious institution, and they will be amazed to see that those who have been given that opportunity behave like this," he added.

"Burning an effigy of anyone is offensive, let alone the first black President of the United States. The overtones are deeply unpleasant," he said.

By msnbc.com.com's Ian Johnston.

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