Tomorrow sees the QMU kick off campus’s voting season with the elections which will decide the majority of the positions on their Board Of Management for the next academic year. All in
context of the union making heavy financial losses and struggling in a climate of stiff competition.
Guardian sat down with the two candidates for President, Colum Fraser and Paddy Hughes, to discuss the future of the QM and the offers they are making to the union’s members for the year ahead.
Polls are open from 8am to 6pm and all members of the QMU are eligible to vote.
Colum Fraser is currently the QM’s Honorary Assistant Secretary, a member of the three person union executive committee who act as trustees for the union and decide its strategic direction
Guardian: Isn’t the unions closure inevitable given its decreasing revenues, massive overhead costs and competition from West End and town? Doesn’t the union need something radical to solve these financial problems?
Colum: I don’t think it’s inevitable, I think we need to find what can still draw students in and focus on that. A lot of the Union’s business has variously been taken by Facebook (where people meet and talk) and cheap booze from local supermarkets, coupled with the pre-drinking culture that has taken so many out of the bars.On top of that, there are some pretty dire economic conditions right now – students’ unions up and down the country are suffering. The clubs are only really a worry if you focus on the QM just as a nightclub – which it very much isn’t. We can solve our financial problems by adapting to what today’s students want and need, be it study space, social space or entertainment.
We don’t need radical action such as cutting or closing, or one big idea, when we could develop and expand the many, many services and events that will individually appeal to every different student on this campus.
G: Are you ready to make uncomfortable decisions if you need too – cutting back on popular services which run at a loss or sub-optimally or closing for longer periods etc?
C: If push comes to shove, and uncomfortable decisions have to be made, I will make sure that every single avenue of action has been considered before making them. My time on the Finance Committee this year has taught me that, yes, sometimes you just have to retreat. Quids is an example of this: students clearly didn’t want a Tuesday clubnight with slashed-price drinks, so – after exploring different ways of promoting it – we decided to close it down. This, however, made us explore the roots of the QM, and I think the re-establishment of the live music program was in part a response to the shifting tastes of students.
G:In your manifesto you talk about seeing the unions take seats on the University Court. The recent Higher Education Governance Review has said two student seats is the norm for universities. If Glasgow were to go above and beyond its requirements why should those seats be in the hands of the unions, who represent a minority interest on campus, as opposed to the SRC?
C: Two seats is the norm for university, but this isn’t a normal university – we have four fully operational student bodies. The Unions do not sit under GUSRC, they sit alongside, and should be entitled to a seat on the body that, at the end of the day, decides their fate.
At this most crucial and perilous time in the Unions’ existence, we should be able to look the people that are deciding upon our worth in the eye and tell them exactly what we contribute to the ‘student experience’ that is so often wheeled out to attract students to their University. I’m almost sick of the excuse ‘that’s the SRC’s job’. Well, what if we can do it too? RAG week contains events similar to the ones our committees run all year, the SRC are only beginning to hand out contraception, we produce a informative, relevant and brilliant student publication and we’ve been active on Glasgow and national campaigns this year as well. Crucially, we do this alongside – not in competition with – GUSRC, regularly swapping info and coordinating events.
I’m not proposing we fight the SRC for their seats, or encroach upon their territory in so many areas, but I am proposing that we have the right to speak for ourselves.
Our Board is active every day, to a man/woman. Where the SRC mainly interacts with students only if they are seeking advice, contacts, or attending the several ‘Weeks’ the SRC hold a year, we do it every day. We know Glasgow students, and we try to be a part of the majority of things they do outside of a lecture theatre and exam hall. A University not in touch with its students is in grave danger of becoming a faceless business.
G: How do you intend to broaden participation so you can see the focus on member driven events you talk about in your manifesto when such a small group of members participate in the process?
C: I don’t accept the premise of your question. No, I think we’ve definitely made headway this year, particularly in the Campaigns & Charities and Publications committees on attracting in people from outside who genuinely want to gain experience in the areas these committees address and help the Union while doing so.
Next year, I’d like to roll out the training we give to Board Members and committees to Ordinary Members. It’s all well and good saying ‘Social’ or ‘Events’ to people, but the titles of the committees don’t really display much about what goes on within. If, instead, you directly offer someone training in, say DJing, lighting, management, planning, design and so on, they’re a lot more likely to recognise these as the graduate attributes that will give them a leg up in the Real World.
G: Most people who are members won’t vote in this election, many won’t be aware the QM is run by a BoM. So why should people vote?
C:Well, the survey that we recently took suggests that the vast majority of Glasgow students ARE aware that the BoM run the Union, but it can be perplexing when they don’t turn out.
A vote makes a real difference – especially now. Depending upon the leadership in the Union next year, it could go down completely different paths – it’s up to them to decide which is better. People should vote because the Union has, does and will continue to provide for them in so many ways, as long as they want it to keep going.
Paddy Hughes is the current Social Convenor and is responsible for overseeing most of the events that take place in one of QM’s two bars.
Guardian: Isn’t the union’s closure inevitable given its decreasing revenues, massive overhead costs and competition from West End and town? Doesn’t the union need something radical to solve these financial problems?
Paddy: We are losing money and a drastic financial turnaround is vital for the union’s survival. However, I do not believe that our next steps have to be radical. The Queen Margaret Union needs to look internally at what it provides and how it benefits the student experience. We need to distance ourselves from town and even clubs in the West End because we are not just a venue and never will be. The Union must strive to become a community that provides student run and student led events alongside facilities that cater explicitly to the needs of our membership.
I believe that we need to let the membership know that their help is needed and that if we carry on losing money, the QMU will no longer exist. The Union needs to be honest with the membership. We should always aim to provide for the membership, not only in relation to what they want and more importantly what they need. I do not think that this is a radical idea.
G: Are you ready to make uncomfortable decisions – cutting back on popular services which run at a loss or sub-optimally or closing for longer periods etc?
The last thing I want to do is to cut back on any service that the union provides for its membership. We have already cut back on a few of the union’s facilities and making any more cuts would be a last resort. I believe it is now time to change and transform rather than eradicate.
G: You talk about reclaiming the QM’s identity – what do you feel this identity is? When the Union is in poor financial condition do you think the potential alienating of punters by establishing a distinct identity is a good thing?
I believe that creating an identity will not alienate anybody. In my manifesto I have talked about music and how this can be a big part of the Union’s future. This idea should be a building block for next year rather than a restrictive force. I feel that by increasing live music we can create a buzz and inject a lot of excitement back into the union on which we can utilise and expand.
I want the QMU to become ‘the music union’ but I also want it to be ‘the sports union’, the ‘food union’, and so on. All of these elements need to come together and help create an identity for the QMU that truly represents our membership.
G: Another element of your manifesto is on increasing the unions services for postgrads. With the SRC and postgraduate students already working on the development of a postgrad space around the university what could the QM offer to this group?
P: The Queen Margaret Union should be the first choice venue for all new and exciting projects. postgraduates make up a large percentage of the Glasgow University student body. At a time when we long for union loyalty and an increase in facility usage, it seems illogical to ignore these students. We cannot compete with the University on a financial level when catering for postgrads, however I feel we can utilise the QM’s presence on campus to ensure greater accessibility and provision for this important group of students.
G: The GUU found success after streamlining and focusing their organization in a strategic plan and you’ve mentioned the importance you place on finalizing a strategic group for the QM. Where do you see the union in 5 years? What your first step to get the union on this path?
P: The strategic plan needs to be completed as soon as possible as it is imperative that the union highlights its plans for the future. It must assure its membership and the university that it has a major presence on campus and that it will be around in five years time.
This document must illustrate the importance of The Queen Margaret Union and the fantastic services we provide and will continue to provide for Glasgow University students. It is vital that we secure the union’s future and show the university that we play a very important part in campus life.
G: One last one, why should the members vote in this election?
This is the chance for you to decide who runs your union. The QMU’s future is literally in your hands and I believe that a good turn out will invigorate the union and prove that the Glasgow University campus cares about The Queen Margaret Union’s future and wants to see it thrive. I believe a vote for me would deliver exactly this. A vote for me is a vote for innovation, a vote for opportunity and a vote for The Queen Margaret Union’s future.