GUU Presidential Candidate Interview and Manifesto Analysis: Holly Fergusson

Interview

Guardian: What are your accomplishments in your time on GUU Board and as Assistant Honorary Secretary?

Fergusson: It’s quite difficult to sum that up as it’s been an amazing learning curve being on any board of management and it certainly is here. As a PSM, I was in charge of Daft Friday, a lot of the PR and marketing side of things; that’s always been my kind of flair. As Assistant Hon Sec, my main responsibility is looking after the board and the clubs and societies. This year we’ve had a record number of affiliated clubs and societies, around 130, which is amazing. This year, I also updated the Affiliations Package, which hadn’t been done in a while, and which I would recommend be done every year. I created a new Platinum Affiliation package, which, when we surveyed all of our members at the start of the year, they just wanted was more support for things like promoting their events. And that’s worked really well, and having that closer relationship with clubs and societies this year has been amazing for me in just really engaging with the members and having honest conversations on what they really want from the Union. It’s been a really good year.

Guardian: You talk about ensuring the Hive becomes the “most successful regular club night in the West End”. How will you actually make this happen?

Fergusson: I think we are in a fantastic position, because we are going to be launching a brand-new nightclub in the middle of campus. That’s amazing. In terms of location, we’re in a great place, and I think if we can ensure our marketing and promotions materials are really strong and communicate a really clear message, not just for the extension but for all the redevelopments and Union activities in general, then I think we have an amazing opportunity to genuinely get more students engaged. If we can execute a launch properly, in a way that all the members want, so we can provide the students with exactly the kind of nightclub they want, then I think we will be in a position to get back to our really big club nights.

Guardian: You mention a few times about working closely with other student bodies, especially GUSA. What specifically does this mean, and what benefits will it bring to GUU?

Fergusson: We’ll be physically connected to GUSA next year; their gym will literally be above our extension. Our extension will not just be a nightclub; there will be café/bar running along the glass façade. But really, it’s about engaging with GUSA to ensure we provide more benefits with clubs and societies by increasing the affiliations package that I mentioned earlier. I think working with GUSA is a really good way of being connected to clubs and societies and find out specifically what they are looking for and really take advantage of being physically closer to the gym, so whether that means healthier food options or just somewhere to go after they’ve played sport, making sure we can provide that.

This year, as an exec, we have been a really good cross-campus team. The other three student bodies have all been great and we all get on really well but have also achieved a lot as a collective. We ran refreshers’ week as an entity this year and all promoted each other’s’ events. As I’ve said earlier, engaging students on campus in an effective way is a common problem among us, and it’s our common goal to do that and we can do more when we work together.

Guardian: How will you look to make the GUU more accessible and welcoming to tackle the negative perception that you identify?

Fergusson: I think it comes down to communicating more with our members. If you think about the open and accessible ways we communicate at the moment, it could definitely be improved; for example, when we did our strategic plan review, we held a mass survey across campus to find out what students think of the GUU, and that brought so many insights to the fore for us, and that should definitely be a regular thing, as part of the review, which is just providing for the members. We should have a survey every year, encouraging more members to speak to the exec by having an open door policy. I think it is about us reaching out to students and getting across our message. I have personally never experienced any of the negative issues that people talk about with regards to the GUU and I know that our equality and diversity values are so important here and are of a really high standard, and if we can communicate that and get more people to have a really good time here, that would be amazing.

Guardian: So why do you think some students find it unwelcoming?

Fergusson: I think it is perception, because I know for a fact it’s not reality. I’ve been in here nearly every single day for the last two years and I know that the issues people seem to think GUU has, I’m confident we don’t, and if they do rise then we tackle them in a really robust and comprehensive way. I know there’s no reason for people to feel uncomfortable in this building and we want to provide for them so much. I really think it is a perception thing, whether it’s what they’ve heard or what’s happened in the past, and we can take responsibility for that fact that it is our role to communicate effectively to the members what we do. And if people still think that then we’re not communicating well enough to combat that negative perception and that is a really important thing for me this, to make sure people feel comfortable in this building.

Guardian: Do you think exclusive single sex dinners contribute to damaging GUU’s reputation?

Fergusson:  Yeah, I can definitely see why they would. Honestly, I think it is good that the GUU is exposed to these things so that we can tackle this negative perception and make sure our members know exactly what it is we stand for. With single sex dinners, any event we have in this building has to comply with our really high equality and diversity policies, any event. The Union doesn’t endorse any dinners except for the Bridie Library Dinner. It’s fantastic that people find a way to have dinners with their friends that will allow them to meet up for years to come, but we would never allow any event in this building that didn’t comply with our equality and diversity standards. We have lots of dinners in this building: Debates dinners, Board dinners, dinners with GUSA, and it’s good thing to have and something we do well, but if we need to investigate anything thoroughly that makes our members feel uncomfortable, then that has no limits, and as President, I would be committed to tackling anything that contributes to that negative perception.

Guardian: What is it that you can specifically bring to the role of GUU president?

Fergusson: The unique thing about me, and why I’m running in this election, is because I have a unique insight into the specific undertakings of next year. I’ve been integrally involved in everything to do with the extension since I’ve been Assistant Hon Sec, going to every single meeting with the designers and architects. My passion for this project and see it become something really amazing for the student experience on campus, is why I am really determined to make it a success, by working with the board to communicate the activities we provide and the services of the Union, and essentially so that next year we have the most successful launch possible so that provides a gate to wider student activities. We could see 1500 people in here every week, that’s 1500 people we could get involved in debating, libraries and games, and tell all these people what we can provide. I know I can do that most effectively and, I believe, I would communicate the message of the board most effectively, with real flair, passion and excitement.

Manifesto Analysis

Holly Fergusson announces that next year shall be ‘the year of the club’. There is a focus on the Hive extension, which is understandable, considering Fergusson’s heavy involvement in the development process this year. However, her pledge to establish “the most successful regular club night in the West End” is brave, if perhaps a little over-ambitious. She needs to have a specific and well-considered plan for how she actually intends to achieve this with the notoriously delay-ridden Hive extension, otherwise this pledge may backfire, especially if the development encounters more problems.

Fergusson continues to tell us how the Hive’s nightclub will act as a gateway to other student activities. It is unclear again how this will be the case, or whether Fergusson imagines that steaming students on a Friday night are going to have a strong desire to sign up to the affiliated Chess Society.

Fergusson’s design experience is another one of her assets, and her desire to oversee the Union’s publications is an interesting addition to her manifesto. It is no secret that G-You is a struggling publication when compared to rival Qmunicate, and Fergusson’s apparent awareness of this fact in her manifesto may put her at odds with the Libraries Convener. Wanting to improve the GUU’s promotional material runs neatly in line with Fergusson’s desire to improve communication between the Board, its members and those outside of the Union.

The next part of her manifesto concentrates on her ability to be a leader. It is well known that Fergusson is assertive, and it is generous of her to say she is “committed to listening to the Board of Management, who are elected to represent the student population”. It is probably expected that the President listens to their Board of Management anyway, even though it is not the case that the Board are elected. Other than the PSMs, every Board member will have been elected unopposed.

Then comes the ‘negative perception’ part of her Manifesto. The GUU has obviously come a long way even in two or three years but there is a significant number of the student population who don’t go into the Union because of its past and maybe its present. Even so, Fergusson is right in praising the GUU’s equality and diversity values, something which has led to recent Boards looking and sounding far more 21st century than they were a few years ago. However, even with as much communication and PR that the GUU can throw at people, it will be a long time before the Union shakes off the albatross around its neck. It may be sad to admit, but the very fact Fergusson is female may do more for people’s perception of the Union than her actual policies.

Finally, Fergusson mentions the Strategic Plan and how she will be the person to implement it properly. It’s hard to argue with this as no one knows what will be in this plan, so the promise comes across without much impact. This is true of a lot of her manifesto, that seems to want people to vote for her not because of the well thought out and original policies she is championing but more because she is Holly Fergusson and that name alone will win her a large number of votes in the Union. Her manifesto, overall, is unspectacular due in part to its lack of real explanations. She may be ambitious, but she needs to prove over the next week why her plans will ever come to fruition.