‘I went to Subclub every Saturday night’: Exclusive interview with Aamer Anwar about his time at Glasgow

Including never-before-seen pictures of his time at university


After a tense couple of weeks since the Glasgow University Rector nominations were announced, Aamer Anwar won the position in a landslide victory.

His pledge is to be “an active, working Rector” and The Tab Glasgow have interviewed the human rights lawyer to present students with an insight into a man they will regularly be seeing around campus.

Hi, Aamer Anwar! Firstly, congratulations on your win yesterday. How does it feel?

It was totally unexpected in terms of the landslide. I thought it was going to be close – I was conscious of the fact that I was the underdog from the beginning, so it came as a complete shock but also total joy and elation. My life started here so it’s nice to be back, and where I gave my speech yesterday is so close to where my life changed on Ashton Lane all those years ago when I was attacked by the police.

A photo of Aamer on the night of November 1991, when he was attacked by police

I’m pleased that the students voted in their thousands in unity against Milo. I’m extremely honoured that students have put their trust in me.

Is it a good feeling to be involved with the University again – like reliving your early 20s?

I’ve been reading some of the stuff on Facebook with some former students saying I was a pain interrupting some of the lectures! But obviously that was so many years ago. It’s nostalgic – I was at university with Nicola Sturgeon and she sent me a message last night of congratulations. It feels like I’m going back in a tardis!

Things have obviously changed but there are a lot of good memories, and I built friendships that lasted for a lifetime and broke cultural and religious barriers that I had and it’s where I learnt politics from being an activist and being on the streets protesting.

The University made me what I am today.

Aamer and his family at his graduation in 1994

And the burning question is how often did you go to Subclub? And where did you get your post-night out food?

I went every Saturday night if I could do it! And the Arches on the Friday night. I’d get my food at the Koh-I-Noor on Gibson Street – I was a bit of a regular and I still go there when I want food.

Were you GUU or QMU?

I was a member of GUU but then I became quite political and QMU became my union – however, my manifesto pledges to fight for both unions as I think it’s highly unfair that student unions are sort of having to be fought off against each other. I’ll be happy to work with both the unions.

Aamer at GUUs Daft Friday in 1986

And what were you like when it came to lectures and tutorials? Did you always go or were you a bit of a rebel?

I was awful! The lecturers were sick of me because they wouldn’t see me at the lectures but they’d see me speaking to students about protests. And tutorials were bad news – there was a History tutor who insisted on tutoring me on my own because he thought I was troublesome.

One embarrassing time was when I turned round and said I was really ill which was my excuse for not attending, but the tutor proceeded to pull out a local newspaper with a photo of me in it at a demonstration holding a placard! But it has been great seeing some of the lecturers who said they feel proud that I was one of their students.

Aamer on his Graduation Day in 1994

What is your favourite Glasgow restaurant, café or takeaway?

I would have to say the Koh-I-Noor for takeaway – it’s the best one. And then the Yadgar café in Southside. And then restaurant wise I’d say the Shish Mahal on Park Road, it’s amazing food.

We know you have to think back, but which level of the library would you sit on?

I’d always wander about looking for the social levels. My studying was always the night before exams when I would freak out and have about five packets of Pro Plus and would literally stay awake for 24 hours to try and cram in everything I’d missed over the course of the term and then I’d sleep for a few hours, get up, and start all over again.

And to finish, how do you aim to help the students at Glasgow in this coming year?

I’ve got a huge task ahead of me. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing, the text messages haven’t stopped coming and my desk is inundated. I think firstly I need to meet with the student bodies. My two primary issues are firstly the question of rents and secondly mental health provision – these are issues which need to be addressed pretty fast.

I said I’d be here every fortnight but I think I’m going to be in a hell of a lot more often than that.

Aamer speaking as President of the University of Glasgow’s Asian Society, 1988

I’m looking to build a team of students around me. I saw JJ Tease [one of the other candidates] out last night celebrating on Ashton Lane and I said to him I’d be happy to work with him in some way. I can only be a strong voice for students if I have the students and staff behind me – I want it to be a partnership of equals.

There are 26,000 students here which is a huge, huge number and it’s about time their voices are taken seriously.