SRC 2014 interviews President: Owen Mooney

Published

Louise Wilson

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Currently a general representative on the SRC and spearheading the anti-zero-hours contracts campaign, Mooney is a prominent member of the Glasgow University Labour Club (GULC). His manifesto is informed by his political values and he believes clubs and societies are the way forward in engaging students in campus politics. In three words, he describes his focus as “active campaigning” and “engagement”.

Guardian: You talk about the importance of clubs and societies on campus. How will you help them?

Mooney: First things first: work closely with VPSA and the Charities, Clubs and Societies Officer as it obviously falls under their remit, but I think there is a lot the President can do to help. Specifically, the President should remain in constant contact with all the clubs and societies from as soon as they affiliate at the start of the year. Then I’d try to keep in regular contact with them via email to see if the SRC can publicise any of their events and that’s how I’d seek to keep engaged with them, as well as continuing to participate in events that are already run, like International Women’s Week, and ensure that clubs and societies get a chance to get involved with them and make sure I’m keeping them informed about all these events that are happening to allow them to run their own events and get engaged with it as part of that.

Liberation and equality have been quite hot topics this year, so I think the SRC has to be particularly active and engaged in driving this forward and ensuring that these issues are placed at the forefront of all we do. For example, when talking about mental ill-health, that is something which disproportionately affects LGBT students, so it’s important to say this is a liberation issue, it’s something to do with equality. Whilst it’s important to be engaged with all heads of societies, it’s particularly important to keep in contact with the heads of the welfare societies, specifically the feminist, LGBT and international societies, to make sure their concerns are represented. I’m a straight, white man – it’s not my place to be making these decisions on liberation, but it’s important for the SRC as a whole to get this information and make decisions based on what these groups want, what they perceive their needs to be. That’s something I’d really want to emphasise throughout my Presidency: that the SRC is at the forefront of making campus a more equal place and supplementing the already excellent activities these societies do.

Guardian: How will you go about engaging with the vast majority of students who do not get involved and how will you encourage people to come to the election workshops mentioned in your manifesto?

Mooney: I think a lot of people who might be interested in running for SRC positions already are put off by not knowing how to go about it in a practical sense – not knowing how to register, or being sure about something they want to change but not being sure if the SRC is the way to go about it. I think these are the students who are likely to attend these workshops when they see them being advertised. The workshops aren’t a magic bullet that will solve representation, but I think what they will do is get people who are already thinking about getting involved to get actively involved.

As to the sort of broader question of how to increase representation – there is no simple easy fix, but there are two main ways to go about it. One is, as I’ve mentioned, the way most students interact with the University community isn’t through student politics, it is through the clubs and societies that they’re active in. By the SRC continually trying to build personal links with heads of these societies, that ensures they have more of a stake in what the SRC is doing. If they’re regularly in contact with us and regularly informed of our events and participating in some of the wider events, it gives students a more direct sense of what the SRC can do or does for them. Obviously this will be a long-term process that we need to continue year after year – it’s not something one presidency can fix – so the idea would also be to have plans in place for a successor in terms of handover.

The other way is by the SRC being active and campaigning for things students need – like mental health and counselling services, things quite close to my heart, that aren’t being catered for under the status quo. Certainly in the past few years, all the major activism on campus has come outwith the SRC when is should be the SRC and the President taking the lead. When the SRC is taking the lead in campaigning for the improvement of services, students become more engaged.

Guardian: You are quite a prominent member of GULC. Is what way will that influence your Presidency?

Mooney: I think that the values that drive me to become a member of the Labour party and the values that drive me to become SRC President are the same ones that drive the student movement as a whole.The values of collective action, solidarity and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves is why the SRC is important. Do my politics inform how I perceive the world and how I perceive issues and the way to deal with them? Yes, of course they do. Does that mean there is a conflict of interest? Probably not – it’s quite common for student presidents to be active politically. I don’t think being politically active will stop you doing your jobs properly, I actually think it helps. You need to have a wider worldview that isn’t just about dealing with single issues, but about the broader problems of society and how do they particularly affect students and how can we, as the SRC, and how could I, as President, use the SRC to deal with these issues.

Guardian: You also mention wanting to directly elect the student member who sits on Court with the President, rather than that decision being made solely by the SRC. Tell us more about that.

Mooney: Basically, my thinking for that was largely motivated by the recent rector elections. One of the things that came up is why it’s important to have a working rector. Part of that is the seat on Court, and that’s one thing students don’t know particularly much about. Certainly before I was elected to the SRC, I knew there was a thing called Court and I knew the rector had a vote on it, but I didn’t really have much idea as to what it did or how powerful it was. Now that I’ve been on the SRC, especially with the campaign on zero-hours contracts, I’ve realised how vital Court is. Court is the only significant democratic check on what University management wants to do. If there are any significant changes that want to be made to the way the University is run or if there’s anything management are specifically failing to do, Court is the only body which can democratically influence that.

I think by having directly elected Court assessors, it does two things. Firstly, they will have a greater degree of legitimacy rather than it coming from Council, which is a much smaller electorate. I think you’ll get students more engaged and more aware of what Court is if there is a new position that some people would be running for. There’s a greater democratic input there. It’ll begin to make students more aware of what Court does and why it’s important, rather than it currently being done by the SRC. Secondly, before the next rector election rolls around, students will be used to electing their own representative to Court and they’ll see exactly how important it is to have that voice on Court and they are more likely to choose a working rector and they are more likely to ask Presidential candidates what their plans are for voting on Court. It does go some steps towards improving democracy, as well as probably getting better decisions made.