Whose Glasgow?

Published

Oliver Milne

This year’s SRC election sees a slate of left wing candidates under the banner of Our Glasgow vying for your votes on a platform of transparency and democracy.

Our Glasgow are running nine candidates for positions, Lucky Dhillon for president, Megan Cowie for vice president learning and development and seven other candidates in various categories and positions under a manifesto which defines its agenda as to:

Change the SRC into a truly representative body – one which is at the forefront of campaigning for student interests.

Their platform focuses on opening up the SRC to broader student involvement and scrutiny through more transparency into the council’s finances, student refrenda and petitions to engage campus in policy making and steps to tackle bad landlords and employers.

Slates of left wing candidates have not featured heavily in many SRC elections prior to this one. In 2009 a slate named Reclaim the SRC, featuring Dhillon as a candidate for vice president learning and development, ran candidates for three of the sabbatical positions. The tactic was not an effective one with none of the candidates proving successful and its candidate for president, Phil Neal receiving only 21% of the vote and being eliminated in the first round.

Left-wing slates can be successful in student elections, something which Defend Edinburgh proved last year at Edinburgh University Student Association elections. The group, formed through campus occupations and the university’s anti-cuts coalition, ran a hard-fought campaign which resulted in them securing one of the four sabbatical officers, vice president academic affairs Mike Williamson, and nearly half of the seats on the student council.

Naomi Beecroft, a EUSA school rep who was part of the Defend Edinburgh slate described the effects as a radicalisation of EUSA’s behaviour. The shift saw them them actively supporting campus occupations and other forms student protest. Beecroft said she believed that the effects had been positive, especially on issues which would otherwise have been condemned but without any real action from the association:

If we weren’t there it would probably have been ‘Oh dear 9k fees, that’s really bad! Anyway lets talk about a graduate hub.’

Defend Edinburgh’s success may have provided some inspiration for Our Glasgow, but the situations on Scotland’s university campuses have changed radically since Edinburgh and Glasgow students went to the polls this time last year.

Last year saw the UK government raise the cap on higher education fees in England to £9k, plan cuts to educational maintenance allowance (EMA) and execute budgets cuts in public services, whilst north of the border Scottish universities planned course closures. Student marches in London attracted tens of thousands of students and for the period between September and March it was one of nation’s biggest news stories. Defend Edinburgh won with an anti-cuts message in a year when this was the biggest issue on every campus in Scotland. Glasgow was a hive of anti-cuts activity with marches on campus to protest the course closures being attended by thousands of students on more than one occasion and the Free Hetherington occupation. Even in this context, the campus left wing were unable to gain a foothold in the SRC, with anti-cuts presidential candidate James Foley losing by 4% of the vote.

This year the issues have changed and the anger mellowed. University budgets are not at the same risk, but fees to students from the rest of the UK have risen with Edinburgh and St Andrews now charging £9,000 and Glasgow £6,825 a year. Similarly, courses are still closing, with Glasgow University’s ruling body court becoming embroiled in a legal scandal over the legality of its decision to close Slavonic Studies.

At Glasgow the focus of anger has shifted and become less widespread. The election instead focuses on transparency and accountability in the SRC, which plays major part of Our Glasgow’s policy platform. But this left wing platform shares that concern with the majority of non-slate candidates in running for sabbatical positions.