Royal Society of Edinburgh's president faces inner fellows’ revolt

Dame Anne Glover, current president and a former chief scientific adviser to both the European Commission and the Scottish government, has withdrawn her name from ballot papers due to be issued next week for the RSE’s elections.
An email, backed by more than 200 fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, claimed that Dame Anne Glover was breaking the society’s laws by proposing another year in office (Photo: Posztos Janos/PA Wire).An email, backed by more than 200 fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, claimed that Dame Anne Glover was breaking the society’s laws by proposing another year in office (Photo: Posztos Janos/PA Wire).
An email, backed by more than 200 fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, claimed that Dame Anne Glover was breaking the society’s laws by proposing another year in office (Photo: Posztos Janos/PA Wire).

The Royal Society of Edinburgh – consisting of Scotland’s highest-achieving scientists, artists, civil servants and academics – acts as the country’s national academy, delivering professional reports on current issues and now a recent report has revealed internal conflict.

Backed by the majority of the society, the president had wanted to extend her term of office, alongside her vice-presidents’ and the society’s treasurer’s which would have kept her in office until April 2022.

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Yet critics have now said this would be breaking the society’s laws.

Professor Hector MacQueen, a former dean of the Edinburgh Law School and RSE member said: “The basic legal point is that the RSE's Royal Charter and Laws set out a particular procedure for changing the society's laws.

"This was not followed when a law change enabling the President and Vice-President to have their 3-year terms of office extended by one year "for special reasons" purported to be made last year.

"That has the effect of nullifying the law change.

"Accordingly the President and Vice-President cannot stand for a further year in office in the forthcoming office-bearer elections for the society.”

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In a vote last year, fellows voted ‘overwhelmingly’ for a change in old RSE laws to allow the President and Vice-President’s term to be extended one year further.

The RSE has said that what made the vote potentially contravene the laws was that it was held virtually last year during lockdown as an in-person meeting would not have been possible.

Despite this, an email entitled “All is not well in the RSE” – circulated to a group of fellows and attracting support from more than 200 members of the RSE – claimed that Dame Anne Glover was breaking the society’s laws by proposing another year in office, according to a report from the Times.

According to the email backed by more than 200 fellows, 64 year-old Glover – whose three-year tenure will come to an end in six weeks – was seeking the extension to move power away from members and towards an appointed executive.

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The supporting fellows of the email include some of the society’s most distinguished members.

The Times reported this included historian Sir Tom Devine, the former lord justice general Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, two former Scottish government permanent secretaries – Sir John Elvidge and Sir Russell Hillhouse – Sir Timothy O’Shea, a former principal of Edinburgh University, and Sir John Leighton, the director of the National Galleries of Scotland.

A RSE Spokesperson said: “A ballot held last year saw Fellows vote overwhelmingly for a change in the RSE’s Laws to allow for the President and Vice-President’s term to be extended for one further year in common with other Office Bearers.

"This law change was voted on via an online ballot.

"Fellows were advised at that time that this was a procedural change due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, and no objections were raised.

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"Three Fellows have now indicated that this may not comply with the written Laws and Charter of the RSE, which require any alteration in the Laws to be voted on at a special or statutory meeting.

“The current President will therefore step down in March, which is the end of her three-year term, at which time the Council will identify an interim President to sit until October 2021.

"In the meantime, the RSE Fellowship will elect a new President, Vice-President, and Treasurer to take up post no later than the Annual Statutory Meeting in October.”

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