Views: The Queen Margaret Union is slowly killing itself


Doug Jack

With what is set to be a very interesting presidential election coming around the corner for the QMU, there is an issue that needs to be raised that is of the utmost importance to the survival of the union. The issue at hand is one of ‘cliqueness’ or, for dramatic effect, a cabal that often fails to realise its own existence, slowly starving the union of oxygen. To be clear this is not a malicious group of individuals conjuring the slow self-destruction of the institution; instead it is the inner nucleus that is only slightly aware of the problem, and when a mirror is placed in front of it the reflection fails to do little more than conjure small mutterings of possibly, maybe, trying to fix the problem.

This problem is best understood with a slight degree of historical narrative. When the Hive (the GUU’s club space) closed down, the QMU was given a free pass to monopolise student evening entertainment while the refurbishment at 32 University Avenue was underway. The QMU failed to take full advantage of the breathing space offered to it because of its internal nature. It’s ironic that many see the QMU as having arms open to all, that we could accuse it of this closed nature. We can consider then the new club night ‘Magic’, which in the beginning was a roaring success, but has now faltered and wavered. Why is this? The ‘cliqueness’ is to blame. Whenever I discuss the decline of Magic with other friends on the periphery of the QMU’s inner workings, a similar message seems to crop up:

That is, people who attend Magic, who aren’t die-hard queen maggies, feel left out. They will be brought by a friend of the union, who will then depart to have fun with other members of the unwitting QMU nucleus, being left to sample a club night that some say has done little to depart from previous events on offer.

I am guilty of this crime, and so are others who I work and socialise with; people just don’t feel at home at the QMU anymore. It’s all the more pertinent now when one sees the orange crane hanging ominously over the GUU; the window granted to the QMU by luck is now slowly closing. When the final brick is laid in the extension and the doors are flung open for the first time, a wavering QMU will now have to compete against a night of evening entertainment so renowned that the mere mention of its name causes first and second years to spout legends and older students to tell tales of great deeds.

But this problem doesn’t end at the club nights QMU provides; no, it extends to the very core of the union itself. At the most recent by-election, in which I was running, all bar one of the students running for the position of CSR (current student representative) were in second year and had been freshers’ helpers for the QM at least once – a symptom of a union failing to not only reach to the majority of students on campus, but the majority of members who use its facilities.

To come to the present, as the QMU correspondents for this publication, my friend, Nathan Stilwell, and I are watching these elections with a keen eye, and what has become so painfully apparent is that this election is suffering from the above mentioned culture within the QMU. For the more prestigious roles of convenors and the executive, the majority of people running have already been on board and all of them have been freshers’ helpers at least once, alas this is to be expected and nothing out of the ordinary.

What peaks my concern more is the turnout for students running for the CSR positions; all bar three of them were freshers’ helpers and two of them are in their first year, one of those first years having already stood, and unfortunately lost, their election. Consider then that first year students have had a chance to interact and get to know the Union since September, and out of the massive pool of possible candidates, only two freshers have felt comfortable and confident enough to say that they wish to stand. The good news for all the CSRs is this: they will win their seats, because none of the CSR seats are contested, both ‘CSR A’ (containing five seats) and B (containing six) have one spare place available. The QMU has failed to attract people to want to take part in it’s running and because of this there will be a board of management deficit, which will put the union under that tad more pressure, pressure that it could do without.

Even on this issue the orange crane casts a light shadow. The GUU’s up and coming General Election is seeing two well-contested present student member (equivalent of CSR) seats. Out of all fourteen people running for the seven PSM seats, five were not Fresher’s Helpers and two of them are first years.

Part of me believes that the scrutiny often placed on the GUU has caused it to be as open and as welcoming as possible. It shows when prospective presidential candidates are running on a ticket of trying to improve the image of the GUU in a meaningful way.

The recent lack of attention on the QMU has meant that this problem has gone under the radar, allowing it to only be opposed by individuals who have been in the nucleus and have then left to see how much of a destructive force it is to the union. This makes it more painful because the people that they leave behind are unaware of what is happening.

To end, this election is the most important election in recent QMU history. If the prospective presidents fail to deal with the internal culture that sits in the middle of the QMU, it will fail to compete with a new and revitalised GUU. Down the line, after you and I have left University, the board of the QM will be faced with an even greater crisis as it pays for the sins of its fathers who were blind to a force corroding away at an institution that plays a role for everyone on this campus and enriches the unique culture we have at Glasgow.