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Laureation address – Kevin Dunion

Kevin Dunion OBE
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws

Laureation by Professor Peter Clark
School of Philosophical, Anthropological & Film Studies
Wednedsay 30 November 2011


Vice-Chancellor I have the honour to present Kevin Dunion for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Kevin is I think what might be termed a local man, but one of international stature.

He was born in 1955 in Bridge of Allan and spent much of his childhood in Alloa and Glenrothes. He entered the University of St Andrews to read Modern History in 1974 and graduated in 1978. Kevin subsequently spent a period of time in the civil service and in university administration but a major change occurred in his career when he joined the renowned charity Oxfam in the very demanding role of campaigns manager. He was however not quite content with the extent of his formal education and in 1989 he entered the University of Edinburgh to read for an MSc in African Studies. He graduated with distinction in 1991 and his dissertation on the ‘International Role of the Scottish Parliament’ was later the basis of the inaugural lecture he delivered to the Royal African Society in Scotland. It was subsequently published in 1993. With his reputation as a campaigner for sustainable development, an activist and a staunch opponent of entrenched interests firmly established he left Oxfam and in 1991 became the first Director and Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland. In the eleven years that Kevin was chief executive the organization flourished and at the end of his tenure in 2002 Friends of the Earth Scotland was generally recognized as the key Scottish non government organization in the field of sustainability and the environment. In 1996 Kevin became Chairman of Friends of the Earth International when he was elected by the seventy five national bodies that make up the organization to lead it and its two million members. This was an extremely influential position, of global reach, involving heading delegations at the United Nations, at the European Commission and addressing international conferences on environmental and sustainability issues world wide. Kevin fulfilled this difficult role of diplomatic but nevertheless sustained campaigning with great skill and to great effect, in recognition of which he was honoured with an OBE in the year 2000. It was no doubt his eleven years of experience with Friends of the Earth that led Kevin to become not just a champion of the principle of the freedom of information, and the legislation brought about by that principle, but perhaps most importantly of all, he became an ardent champion of the spirit that lies behind it. In February 2003 Kevin was appointed as the first Scottish Information Commissioner with his office not far from here in St Andrews. He was appointed by Her Majesty The Queen on the nomination of the Scottish parliament for an initial period of five years. It is a plain and clear tribute to his success in that role that in 2008 a motion was presented to the Scottish Parliament to reappoint Kevin for a further four years; this motion was, as they say, backed by assent. The role of Scottish Information Commissioner, as you can no doubt guess, is not an altogether easy one. Kevin has given over 1,500 formal decisions on appeals made to his office.

That is a rough average of one every second working day! Some of these rulings have been very high profile – MSPs’ expenses claims, surgeons’ mortality rates, PFI contracts for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – but Kevin has never wavered in his commitment to the legislation and principle of freedom of Information.

You may think that for most people coping with that sort of workload and that public profile it would be enough, but Kevin in the same period has been a very hard working educationalist and author. It is true to say of him now that he is perhaps the leading international authority on Freedom of Information and in that capacity he has addressed numerous international conferences from New Zealand (2007) to Mexico City (2008), and China most recently. This weekend he is off to Brazil to advise on the implementation of their FOI Act just recently signed by the President. He has authored a major work on FOI, just published in October, Freedom of Information in Scotland in Practice; a major work on environmental justice, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2003 entitled Troublemakers – The Struggle for environmental justice in Scotland, and a delightful and compelling history of the extraordinary events which occurred in our local villages of Anstruther and Cellardyke during the First World War under the title The Democracy at War.

Kevin, it must not be thought, is a distant public figure holding remote public office, at least not to us; he is a very familiar figure indeed, for in October 2008 he was elected by the students of St Andrews as their Lord Rector and consequently as President of the Court of the University of St Andrews. From the very first he was a champion of the students and put their interests and well being at the very top of his rectorial agenda. We are all immensely grateful for his service to the University and in particular for his service, advice and guidance to our student community.

Vice Chancellor, you have before you an activist, a campaigner, a public servant, an author and a stalwart supporter of our student community: in recognition of which I invite you now to confer upon Kevin Dunion the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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