‘It woz the Occupation wot did it‘ doesn’t quite hold true

Published

Oliver Milne
Part of the Hetherington Retrospective feature.

The occupation of 13 University Gardens dubbed the “Free Hetherington” ended on the 31st August after securing a number of concessions from University Management. They promptly declared victory, and caught in a flurry of camera shutters they were propelled into the national press as the saviours of Glasgow University.

But is this really the case? Can the Occupation be considered the driving force behind the various concessions management have offered? Or are these successes the result of the tireless work of the more traditional bodies working on campus, namely the SRC and UCU?

The SRC President, Stuart Ritchie, thinks the role of the SRC has been ignored in securing these concessions. “I feel the SRC has been underplayed… I mean concessions like no further cuts without consultation, I feel the SRC were the driving force behind that and we haven’t got the credit we deserve, but I don’t have great issue with that either. You’ve got to know that you can get on with the business and not necessarily be congratulated for it.”

However a key demand for the occupiers was the lack of facilities for postgraduates following the closure of the Hetherington Research Club in February 2010. Given the recent announcement by the SRC that a new Postgraduate space will be opening on campus, was it really the occupiers that pushed this up the agenda?

Stuart Ritchie reluctantly agrees with this view:

Absolutely, I think we saw a knee jerk reaction from management. I mean I think it would have happened eventually but the occupation certainly expedited the project that had become bogged down in University bureaucracy.

He is however quick to point out the differences between the new postgraduate space and HRC, which was managed almost entirely by the students who used it:

I think the occupiers should be aware that the new postgraduate space will not replicate the Hetherington Research Club. They should have no illusions about that. I think the old model was flawed, and the club poorly managed. In the new space the postgraduate community will have control over the usage of the space, but not its management and that’s the right thing to do.

Regardless of the debates, which go back and forth on what the Occupation achieved in concrete terms, it is undeniable that it’s legacy, in one form or another, will permeate campus politics for years to come.

Anne Gow, Honorary Secretary of the local UCU branch, believes the long term effect on campus will be a largely political one:

The occupation has forced people to engage with politics in a very real way. Students realised that politics doesn’t just happen in Westminster but can effect them on campus. Not everyone agreed with the occupation but they were thinking about the issues and recognised how real they were.

Stuart Ritchie believes its negative effect on our University has been underplayed.

I think it very seriously affected the University’s image and reputation with all the media coverage both local and national.

So, while perhaps the simplistic ‘it woz the occupation wot did it’ analysis doesn’t quite hold true, neither can they be written off as simply meaninglessly occupying a building and creating a hippy-esque social space. The real concessions were won through the traditional channels of negotiation with hard work by Senate, the UCU and the SRC. Without the presence of the Occupation – presenting itself as a very visible thorn in the side of University Management and creating thousands of hours of national coverage – it is hard to see how many of these concessions would have been made at all. Even Stuart Ritchie, who could hardly be described as sympathetic to the occupation, seems to share this view:

What you have to give them credit for, is that inadvertently it made the University aware that the formal structures of representation cannot be ignored. I don’t mean to say that the relationship with the University has changed, just that the importance of our working relationships and their understanding of our value has been reinvigorated