Students at the university instituted the idea of a union building in 1885 to help promote social interaction on campus. The union's formation was driven by members of Glasgow University Dialectic Society, the Glasgow University Medico-Chirurgical Society and the Glasgow University Athletic Club. The same group formed a Students’ Representative Council in 1886 to raise funds for the building and procured the sum of £5000 from Dr John McIntyre of Odiham, Hampshire.
In 1889 the Glasgow University Students' Representative Council obtained statutory recognition under the Act of 1889 and in 1890 they managed to raise sufficient funds to build the union.
The union was originally accommodated in the John McIntyre Building, named for a major benefactor, which opened in 1890 and was designed by John James Burnet. These premises soon proved to be inadequate however, and a new building at the foot of University Avenue was designed by the architect and former assistant to J.J. Burnet, Alan McNaughton of Arthur & McNaughton in the Scots Baronial style. The new Union building was financed from funds raised by donations to the Student Welfare Scheme, started in 1921 to re-invigorate student life and was erected between 1929 and 1931, with the women of the Queen Margaret Union (QMU) moving into the John McIntyre Building in 1932. The John MacIntyre has been the location of the Glasgow University Students' Representative Council, since the new QMU building opened in 1969. An extension to the Glasgow University Union building was designed by Keppie, Henderson & Partners and opened in 1965, which housed four bars: Deep Six, the Gallery Bar, Altitude and Playing Fields - and the union's nightclub, The Hive. The extension was closed in late January 2013, with demolition of the building following in July of that year. Construction of a new 4,191m2, £13.4 million sports and social facility designed by Page/Park Architects and ECD Architects began in June 2014. This is a shared premises with Glasgow University Sports Association. The GUU element of the building includes a revitalised Hive nightclub and three bars: The Well, Base and G12. The new facility was completed in September 2015 and formally launched on 17 October 2015.
The GUU is one of two unions at the University of Glasgow, the other being the Queen Margaret Union, which was established in 1890, after the first matriculation of women at the university in the wake of its merger with Queen Margaret College.
The reason for this separation is that the GUU originally only permitted men to join, while the QMU only admitted women; in fact, the GUU was the last student union in the UK to have single-sex membership. In 1977, in the wake of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, there was a referendum to mix the two unions, but this was defeated by a large majority. A mixing campaign got seriously under way in 1979, at one point the strictly all-male "Beer Bar" being occupied by a large mixed group of students. An extraordinary general meeting of the QMU voted overwhelmingly to admit men into membership, a move which subverted the whole structure of separate unions. Eventually, in 1980, a GUU special general meeting voted overwhelmingly to admit women into membership, under threat from the University Court of losing the lease on the extension to its building, with just 139 votes against.
The GUU is a social hub for the university, providing the largest Billiard hall in the west end, bars, live entertainment and a nightclub. It is one of the largest licensed premises in Scotland with nine bars (and a tenth which is portable for use during functions). In addition, members can eat in the Servery, which includes a Subway franchise, relax in the Drawing Room Coffee Shop (formerly the Smoking Room), purchase essentials in the Union Shop and take advantage of two libraries provided for study.
The two libraries and the Reading Room are available for study every day and for booking social events. They are maintained by the Libraries Convenor. The current Libraries Convenor is Anna Ireland. The Elliot Library is named after former inter-war Cabinet Minister Walter Elliot; the Bridie Library after Osborne Mavor, physician, dramatist and founder of the Citizens Theatre, who wrote under the pseudonym, "James Bridie". A mural by Fyffe Christie hangs in the room, illustrating the West End Perk, a poem by Bridie. The Reading Room is dedicated to Donald Dewar, former President of the Union, Secretary of State for Scotland and First Minister of Scotland. A portrait of Scotland's first First Minister hangs there in his memory.
After its impromptu initiation as a piano Sing-along and Smoking concert by the then Honorary Secretary Osborne Henry Mavor on the last day of the 1908 Martinmas Academic term, the highlight of the Union's social calendar is the annual 'Daft Friday' black tie ball which continues to be held at the end of the Martinmas term exam diet. Over the years the event has become increasingly elaborate with the entire union building decorated to a theme and devoted to the festivities. Daft Friday is held as a celebration for the president of the union.
Over 2000 students attend the event, which includes revolves around a secret theme and hosts entertainments such as a swing band, string quartet, DJs, ceilidhs and laserquest. Well known bands have also played Daft Friday in recent years, including: Arcade Fire in 2008, Jack Penate in 2009, Bombay Bicycle Club in 2010, Frightened Rabbit in 2011, Basshunter in 2012, Chvrches in 2013 and Sub Focus in 2015.
The evening also includes the James Bridie Memorial dinner; a seven course meal for around 150 guests. Speakers at the 2011 dinner included Charles Kennedy and David Ross, both of whom are former presidents of the union.
The GUU is the most successful university debating institution in the world, winning the World Universities Debating Championships a record 5 times. GUU has also taken home the John Smith Memorial Mace a record 16 times, most recently in 2016.
The Convener of Debates on the GUU Board is elected from the Union membership and heads the Union Debates Committee. The current Convener of Debates is Douglas Jack. The Convener is responsible for the internal and intervarsity debating activities of the GUU. The Union's Debates Chamber spans the first and second floors of the building.
The union holds the biennial John Smith Memorial Debate in memory of the former Leader of the Labour Party and former member of the union and Convener of Debates. The most recent Debate was held in 2011, when guest speakers included Shadow Scottish Secretary Ann McKechin and former Conservative Health Minister Gerry Malone, and which was chaired by Rector of the University and former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy. A bust of John Smith stands at the entrance to the Debates Chamber gallery.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the World Universities Debating Championships which were founded by Glasgow University Union, GUU held a Grand Show Debate on the subject of Scottish Independence. This was held in the union on 19 November 2011.
The debate featured eight of the union's ten former world champions and was chaired by the union president, Chris Sibbald. Speakers in the debate included: former ITN presenter John Nicolson, Managing Director of McKinsey & Company UK and Ireland Kevin Sneader, Royal Bank of Scotland Global Head of Equities Frank McKirgan, Gillette Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President of Procter & Gamble Austin Lally, now President of Braun and a member of the P&G Global Leadership Council, advocate Manus Blessing, Managing Director of Bain Capital Robin Marshall, former MSP, Duncan Hamilton, and entrepreneur Gordon Peterson.
Over two hundred of the union's distinguished alumni turned out for the event, including: former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy; former Conservative Minister of Health Gerald Malone; Channel Four Business Correspondent Sarah Smith; Labour peers Lord James Gordon and Baroness Smith, wife of former Leader of the Opposition and friend of the union, John Smith; Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill; football commentator Archie Macpherson and comedian Len Murray.
The debate motion of "This House believes in an Independent Scotland", a controversial issue in current British politics, was hotly contested and resulted in a win for the 1987 World Champion team of Kevin Sneader and Austin Lally. They won a memorable Worlds tournament in UCD in 1987 of 110 teams. The Best Speaker prize was awarded to Duncan Hamilton.
The debate garnered national press attention and was filmed live and broadcast internationally by STV. STV's political editor Bernard Ponsonby covered the event.
The GUU is well known for the number of university debaters it has produced. It hosted the first World Universities Debating Championship in its current form in 1981 and again in 1990 and 2001. The Union won the Championship five times, in 1983, 1987, 1992, 1994 and 1997. In addition, the GUU has a distinguished history in the John Smith Memorial Mace, a competition between the winners of regional competitions in Ireland, England, Scotland and, latterly, Wales. It currently holds the record for the most overall wins with a total of fifteen.
The union is notable for its five annual Parliamentary Debates. This is unique to the Union and not to be confused with the British Parliamentary style of debating. Parliamentary debates are currently held between five clubs: the Scottish Nationalist Association, Her Majesty's Loyal Tory Club, the Whigs, the Independent Socialists and the World Almighty Distributist League. While some members join clubs to which they are actually politically aligned, others join clubs for social reasons or due to the possibility of being selected by that party leader to deliver speeches during desirable portions of the debate. In each of the five annual debates, the clubs rotate as the "Government", "Opposition", Strong Support, Strong Opposition, and Weak Support/Opposition. The Government presents a Bill of three clauses, which is then argued over the course of about nine hours of debate, concluded by the "Prime Minister" who typically gives a speech of between thirty and sixty minutes to sum up the debate.
The Glasgow University Dialectic Society was the original debating society for students at the University, thought to have originated from some time around the University's foundation in 1451 but re-instituted in 1861. The Dialectic Society was one of the organisations which contributed to the establishment of the union in 1885 and continues to be involved in the debating activities of the union, whilst retaining an independent status. The GUU Convenor of Debates is an ex officio member of the Board of the Dialectic Society, and the fourth Parliamentary of the year is dedicated the Dialectic Parliamentary.
The union offers an array of regular entertainments and competitions for members and non-members alike. Open Mic runs on a Friday evening from 9pm in The Well along with a number of occasional events such as comedy nights and 'GUU's Got Talent'. The Union currently runs two club nights in the HIVE - HIVE Thursdays and Switch Saturday. The current Entertainments Convener is Elsa Brotchie.
It is often considered by members in recent history that the best night in the Union ever was the Freshers' Week performance by Hot Dub Time Machine in 2014. This was organised and convened by the Honorary Secretary, at the time, Rory Slater, and the Convener of Entertainments, Simon Tierney.
The Games Convener was originally charged with ensuring that the tables in the union's Billiard room were kept to a good standard. The current Games Convener is Hannah-Naomi Karim. The Games Committee now runs numerous weekly events as well as the annual 'Month of Games'. All events are free to enter.
Weekly events include the Beer Bar Quiz (Mondays at 8pm), Snooker Competition (Wednesdays), Darts and Pool Competitions (Fridays) and annual events comprise snooker and darts competitions, a dodgeball tournament, drinking and Iron Stomach competitions and B.A.D.G.E. (Big All Day Games Event).
In the autumn of 2011, it emerged that the university was considering proposals to demolish the union's extension building and replace it with increased sports facilities. The union's extension building housed five of the union's bars and its nightclub, The Hive. The reaction to these proposals was met with anger among the student population, particularly as loss of the union's nightclub, would result in the closure of the union.
As a result, the union Board of Management campaigned and lobbied the university senior management group, which resulted in national press attention. Many of the union's alumni reacted to the news of this decision with Duncan Hamilton saying: "This is a total failure to appreciate that for many alumni the GUU was the most influential and important part of their university life."
As a result, the university abandoned its original proposals; rather, opting for a joint-venture for union and sports facilities. University of Glasgow principal Professor Anton Muscatelli issued a statement saying: "The University will only commit the Sports Extension when we are also able to commit to a development of GUU social space that will sustain its activities." This was ultimately achieved, with construction of a new extension building starting in June 2014 and completed in September 2015. The Board of Management of 2015−16, along with the Union's General Manager Anne Marie Bennett, formally opened the Hive on 17 October 2015.
Friends of Glasgow University Union (FoGUU) was formed in 2011 as an independent charity to raise funds for projects at Glasgow University Union. A committee of various life members runs FoGUU and meets on a monthly basis. The committee seeks monthly donations from alumni, with patrons' names being displayed in a Patrons' Board in the union.
FoGUU runs activities for life members, including: reunion dinners, golf days and anniversary events. The charity is an extension of the committee that the union's 125th celebrations in October 2010. This culminated in a dinner for over two hundred alumni, hosted by broadcaster, and former union board member, Andrew Neil.
The GUU Board of Management is a group of 17 student members, elected annually, as well as 7 non-student life members, elected biennially. The current Board of Management is:President - Fergus Greig
Vice Presidents - Davinder Bedi, Gavin Muir
Honorary Secretary - Blair Lockwood
Assistant Honorary Secretary - Liseli Sumbwanyambe
Honorary Treasurer - Stephen White
Convener of Debates - Douglas Jack
Convener of Games - Hannah-Naomi Karim
Convener of Libraries - Anna Ireland
Convener of Entertainments - Elsa Brotchie
Former Student Members - Louise Graham, Heather Whiteside, Neil MacGregor, Paul Sweeney
Present Student Members - Keri Anderson, Michael Finlayson, Ailsa Jones, Alex Martin, Craig Everett, Connor Davidson, Emma Prendergast, Roddy MacVicar, John Willison, Aslak Ringhus
The union counts many distinguished figures amongst its former members, including:John Buchan, author and former Governor General of Canada
Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats (President)
Donald Dewar, former First Minister of Scotland (President)
Walter Elliot, former Cabinet Minister, after whom the Elliot Library is named
Fred Goodwin, former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland
Hugh Henry, Labour MSP and former Scottish Minister for Education (Assistant Honorary Secretary)
Robert Stevenson Horne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer
Gerald Malone, former Conservative Minister of Health
Archie MacPherson, football commentator
Angus Grossart, investment banker
Brian Gill, Lord Gill, Lord Justice Clerk
John Nicolson, SNP MP and former BBC and ITV News journalist. World University Debating champion in 1983, representing Glasgow.
Duncan Hamilton, Advocate and former MSP
Derry Irvine, former Lord Chancellor
Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Rector of the University (President)
John MacCormick, one of the founders of the Scottish National Party, former Rector of the University
Dickson Mabon, former Scottish Office Minister and Labour MP for Greenock (President)
Andrew Neil, journalist and broadcaster
Gordon Prentice, Labour MP (President)
John Smith, former Leader of the Labour Party (Convener of Debates)
Sarah Smith Scotland Editor for the BBC
Brian McBride, Chairman of ASOS.com (President)
David Muir, former CEO of The Channel and pollster and strategist to Rt. Hon Gordon Brown.
Liam Fox, Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Defence
Kirsten Oswald, SNP MP for Renfrewshire East, defeating Jim Murphy in the 2015 elections.
The archives relating to the Glasgow University Union are maintained by the Archives of the University of Glasgow (GUAS).