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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July 2005, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
Brown's first taste of power

By Martin Rosenbaum
BBC News Freedom of Information Unit

What would life be like if Gordon Brown became prime minister?

Gordon Brown in his student days.
Mr Brown cut his campaigning teeth as a student.

Would he create extra bank holidays so that we could listen to his important speeches?

Would he spend his time examining the minutes of Number 10's Parking Sub-Committee?

Would Whitehall fail to meet his needs for extra filing cabinets?

All these things are possible, judging by newly-released documents covering his time as Rector of Edinburgh University in the 1970s.

Elected by the students, this had traditionally been an honorific post, often going to an entertainment celebrity who rarely visited the university.

Running battle

But it came with the rarely-exercised legal right to chair meetings of the Court, the university's governing body.

Mr Brown and fellow student activists realised they could use this to advance their campaigns. In 1972 he became the second student to be elected Rector.

For the next three years he fought a running battle with the university authorities, including a fierce legal dispute, which Mr Brown won, to confirm his right to chair meetings.

Now further light has been shed on Mr Brown's early activism, following the release of documents by Edinburgh University in response to a request from BBC News's Freedom of Information Unit.

The documents confirm Mr Brown's ferocious appetite for what others may regard as tedious detail.

One of his first actions as Rector was to write sternly to university officials, arguing that "I must have all the business of the Court on hand, in order to fulfil my function as Chairman", and so he had to receive the minutes of all Court committees.

Exhaustive scrutiny

He attached a list of 17 committees whose minutes he wanted.

In this time of economy I believe it is vital that the University's finances must not only be properly managed but be seen to be so
Gordon Brown

This included the Laboratory Technicians Committee, the Minor Buildings Sub-Committee and the Parking Sub-Committee.

The administrators were reluctant to let him have all he wanted.

The University Secretary, its top official, wrote: "What I want to avoid is the creation in the Rector's Office of another great accumulation of University papers which can be picked over by all sorts of other people as well as the Rector."

When Mr Brown did receive minutes his exhaustive scrutiny probably confirmed the fears of the administrators.


He denounced the minutes of one meeting as "inaccurate, biased and misleading", attaching "very