Barack Obama
Barack Obama Reuters

Conservative students at Scotland's prestigious St Andrews University have apologised after members of their societies burned an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The incident was believed to have taken place on Friday evening on the town's East Sands beach after a meeting of St Andrews University's Conservative Association.

Matthew Marshall, president of the St Andrews Conservative Association, told the BBC: "President Obama is an important ally to the British Government. It was a stupid thing to do and we apologise for any offence caused."

The university said it was "aware of the reports and seeking clarification" and that it had asked to meet the president of the society to discuss "very understandable concerns."

Suggestions that the effigy was also wrapped in an EU flag have since been denied.

John Park, Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, whose constituency includes the university, said: "This is gravely offensive and way beyond a student prank.

"Thousands of young people yearn for the chance to study at such a prestigious institution, and they will be amazed to see that those who have been given that opportunity behave like this. These people need to spend some time in the real world.

"Burning an effigy of anyone is offensive, let alone the first black President of the United States. The overtones are deeply unpleasant. I hope the Prime Minister, Ruth Davidson and the Conservative Party take action against their activists. It is simply unacceptable."

A St Andrews Students Union spokesman said: "As students we believe in political debate, with engaging those who we disagree with us and that all students at St Andrews have a valid opinion to contribute.

"While it does not violate any laws, we believe that the burning of political or public figures in effigy can be an act of hate, stifles productive engagement and can be offensive.

"We believe that St Andrews students should hold ourselves to a higher standard and actively demonstrate that we are ready to engage with, and respect, the opinions of others.

"As such we deplore the burning in effigy of political or public figures regardless of sex, race, political persuasion or any other distinction."