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Aberdeen private club retain “disgraceful” ban on female members

The Royal Northern & University Club vice chairman Mel Keenan
The Royal Northern & University Club vice chairman Mel Keenan

A historic private club has scrapped talks on admitting female members for the first time in 160-year history amid an internal battle over the controversial issue.

The Royal Northern and University Club (RNUC) has now slapped three-year ban on discussing the matter to try to defuse simmering tensions.

But the move was condemned by the Scottish Government last night and branded “disgraceful” by a leading councillor.

A committee was set up last year to examine the question of females joining the club – which is based in Aberdeen’s Albyn Place – because of a “mood for change” among a majority of members.

But rows over the future of the club’s patronage left the committee unable to reach a decision.

And instead a three-year moratorium on making a decision on allowing women to join was imposed.

North east businessman Mel Keenan, who runs Keenan Recycling at New Deer and is vice-chairman of RNUC, said the moratorium would give more time for discussion.

Mr Keenan said: “This discussion became quite animated and led to, perhaps you might say, ungentlemanly discussions at times, so what we’ve tried to look at is can we have some formula that we can agree so as to discuss this calmly.

“There is a very special ambiance and atmosphere at the club and it would be a brave chairman indeed to say that ‘in my time we will over turn that tradition and brand’.”

He added: “After 160 years, things change slowly.”

The club was described last night as “quite disgraceful” by Angela Taylor, education convener and deputy leader of the Labour group at Aberdeen City Council.

Last year, she clashed with former first minister Alex Salmond over the rights of female members at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club.

Mr Keenan claimed that those who condemned the club for being out of touch were actually out of touch themselves.

Mr Keenan said: “Women that are serious about women’s place in society don’t judge it by can they get into a gentlemen’s club which perhaps has traditions of a bygone era.

“They are judging it by can I get a say in the running of this country, in the cabinet, in the parliament. Can I progress to a chief executive in my company?

“People saying for this day and age this is offensive, I think that has been overtaken some time ago.”

The club has about 700 members, drawn largely from business circles, and women can enter the grand Victorian premises if signed in by a member.

Women are now allowed in the bar, can also attend various functions and recreational groups – but cannot go in alone and enjoy the same privileges as men.

Mr Keenan highlighted that Sharon Findlater, former club secretary, had now been appointed chief executive.

Councillor Taylor said: “I have spoken to member at the club and I know that some are very keen to have women in the club but there are some very antiquated views still held by some.

“We have now seen the Royal and Ancient at St Andrew’s overwhelmingly accept female members and in my view, this antiquated male-only club has no place in society.

“It is not acceptable, women have equal status to men, and for this club in Aberdeen to be doing this is quite disgraceful.”

She said she hoped the club would scrap the moratorium, backdated to September 2014, and get the issue back on the table.

Professor Rita Marcella, dean of faculty at Aberdeen Business School, said: “I’m surprised that they’ve postponed taking a decision as it is a great venue and I’d have liked to have had the opportunity to be a member.”

Last night, the Scottish Government said the club’s stance was at odds with progress made on gender balance.

A spokeswoman said: “There is no doubt that increased diversity greatly benefits the economy and society.

“The Scottish Government is leading by example with a gender balanced Cabinet, one of only three in the developed world, a campaign for gender balance in boardrooms, increased childcare which benefits both mothers and fathers, and work to tackle gender stereotypes.

“Although there has been a great deal of progress in recent years, such as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club voting to open membership up to women in September 2014, it is disappointing that examples such as this still exist.”

Scotland’s last gentlemen’s club

RNUC is understood to be the last gentlemen’s club in Scotland.

Vice-chairman Mel Keenan said some members were “trying to preserve what is unique” by putting off a decision on whether to allow women to join.

When asked what difference a male-only membership made, he said: “Its difficult to put your finger on what is that special ingredient that makes a gentlemen’s club different. I think it’s just the ambiance.

“Men change when around women and women when around men.

“Men talk differently to each other, they confide things and there is a banter that goes on.”

Mr Keenan said the atmosphere was more “sedate” when only men were in the club.

He added: “There is no atmosphere here of being anti-women – it’s more of a tradition of being a gentlemen’s club and ladies are welcome as guests.

“We want to welcome ladies and look after them.”