Rector Moffat follows in footsteps of Kipling and Cleese

Alistair Moffat, Director of the Borders book Festival and Author in his study and with his horse Sooty.','Pic Neil Hanna
Alistair Moffat, Director of the Borders book Festival and Author in his study and with his horse Sooty.','Pic Neil Hanna

KELSO-born historian and author Alistair Moffat is the new rector of St Andrew’s University, Britain’s oldest higher education establishment, following a landslide election victory, writes Andrew Keddie.

Mr Moffat, who lives in Selkirk and founded the Borders Book Festival in 2004, beat off the challenge of five high-profile contenders to win the three-year tenure which will take in the university 600th anniversary celebrations in 2013.

Others vying for the rectorship were former Scottish Secretary of State and Tory grandee Lord Michael Forsyth, erstwhile Scottish Socialist Party MSP Colin Fox, the television broadcaster Abeer Macintyre and Duns-based football pundit and ex-Scottish international winger Pat Nevin.

There was a record turnout of 3,882 – 49 per cent of the student population – for the vote, the results of which were announced on Friday night.

There were two rounds of counting with Mr Moffat polling 1,851 in the first and Mr Nevin dropping out with the least support (266 votes).

In the second round, Mr Moffat had 1,956 votes: more than the combined total of his rivals Forsyth (825), Fox (695) and Macintyre (326).

“I am absolutely humbled, delighted and proud to be following in the footsteps of illustrious past rectors such as John Stuart Mill and, especially, John Cleese,” said Mr Moffat, 61, after his victory was confirmed.

“We have had a wonderful week of campaigning and I thank the other candidates for their fellowship ... any one of the five would have served the university very well.

“When 600 years ago the candles of enlightenment were first lit in St Andrews, they shone light into some dark corners. Now cold winds are blowing and storms gathering out there and the candles are flickering and growing dim.

“But what is wonderful about St Andrews is its students and, with their energy and commitment, St Andrews will burn brightly again without a doubt.

“When I was invited to run for rector I felt a sense of homecoming. I really grew up in St Andrews and my family has a huge investment in this place. I will now devote the time to actually be in St Andrews, to engage with student activities and student issues.

“I will do my utmost to represent the students, the university and all the wonderful things St Andrews stands for.”

The family ties with the home of golf run deep for Mr Moffat who, while studying mediaeval history there, met his wife Lindsay at a party. They married at St Salvator’s Chapel in the town and two of their three children are also St Andrews graduates.

As rector, Mr Moffat will represent all students and take the Chair of Court, the supreme governing body of the university.

Famous past rectors include the aforementioned economist John Stuart Mill (1865), Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig (1916) and Rudyard Kipling (1922).

The seventies saw a host of famous British personalities take on the role, including John Cleese, Alan Coren, Frank Muir and Tim Brooke-Taylor.

Mr Moffat takes up his post with immediate effect and will be formally installed at a special ceremony next spring.