On 10 March, ahead of the upcoming Glasgow University Rector elections, Glasgow University’s Liberal Democrats Society (GULD) hosted an event called “Meet Next Rector of Glasgow University: Vince Cable.”
The event offered students and the wider public a chance to meet the former cabinet minister, who has been nominated for the Rectorship of the University. Hosted in a private function bar in the city-centre pub Waxy O’Connors, the event offered attendees the chance to meet Cable in an informal setting and hear the ex-MP speak in support of his Rectorship bid. Ticketed at £13.33, the small gathering was attended by around 50 people, including Cable, his wife Rachel Smith, several members of GULD, assorted student press and a collection of students and non-students alike. Attendees were treated to a free buffet and a private bar.
GULD Chancellor/Treasurer Benjamin Denton-Cardew, who had secured the venue for free, spoke to the Glasgow Guardian about the society’s involvement in Cable’s bid. In a short interview, Denton-Cardew explained that the society plans to host several events to both promote the bid and raise funds. Without revealing how much had been or was hoped to be raised, he stressed the focus on mental health in the campaign, something which features prominently in Cable’s manifesto, along with student accommodation, study space and combatting the negative effects of Brexit.
Shortly afterwards, the Glasgow Guardian spoke to Cable. In light of the priority given to student accommodation in his Rectorship manifesto, the Glasgow Guardian opened by asking Cable for his thoughts on SNP MSP Sandra White’s recently reported concerns that, with an increasing student population, the West End is in danger of becoming a “ghost town” outwith term time. Referring to the investigations into the effect of student influx on British cities that he led when in government, Cable asserted his belief in the positive effects of a student presence, claiming it is something he would encourage. This led to a discussion of Brexit and its effect on British universities; Cable enumerated the four reasons he fears the vote could be disastrous for universities, specifically the loss of EU students, restrictions on staff, the loss of EU funding and the impact the vote will have on the successful Erasmus exchange program. Fighting such effects is a central part of his manifesto.
Given the focus on mental health issues to his campaign, the Glasgow Guardian then asked Cable what he made of the recently reported petition posted by the Shaw Mind Foundation, which has received 35,000 signatures and aims to gather support for compulsory mental health education.
“I would come at it from the other end,” said Cable, adding that he would not support compulsory mental health education at Glasgow University and would instead focus on improving current provision at the University, citing a strong personal interest in the issue. When asked about similar “compulsory classes” initiatives such as those on sexual violence at Oxford University, Cable expressed a commitment to creating an environment more conducive to victims coming forward. When asked for his thoughts on the endorsement of Lady Cosgrove by the management of both of Glasgow’s student unions and whether this would afford her an advantage, Cable countered that his extensive political experience made him a fit candidate for Rector.
He elaborated on this experience during a 40-minute speech, highlighting in particular his time as Secretary of State for Business and as a Labour councillor for Maryhill on the Glasgow City Council. Discussing his time in local politics, he described his successful opposition to the construction of a so-called “motor way on stilts” that, if built, would have cut through Maryhill, and cited his support for tenement modernisation against the now widely disparaged policy of tenement clearances.
In a similar fashion to fellow Liberal Democrat and former Rector of the University of Glasgow, the late Charles Kennedy, Cable promises to hold surgeries with students that would compliment his official duties as Rector. A practice borrowed from his time in parliament, these surgeries would give students the opportunity to discuss issues directly with the individual responsible for solving them – an important manifesto promise in light of the many calls for a working Rector.
As mentioned above, Brexit is a major concern for Cable. Calling the present a “torrid period” in the wake of the referendum last summer, he enumerated at length the challenges faced by the country and spoke of his long standing opposition to British withdrawal from the European Union. Also touched upon were his opinions on the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats and the ways his party would benefit the country in its current state. It is worth noting that some in attendance found aspects of his speech too partisan and were displeased at his subordinating the subject of his Rectoral bid to that of party politics.
Following Cable’s speech was a brief question and answer session. When asked for his views on the state of gender equality on university campuses, a pertinent topic after just one woman was nominated for Rector, Cable stated his belief in the need to encourage more young women into STEM subjects.
In keeping with the informal nature of the event, attendees were afterward given the opportunity to talk with and pose more questions to Cable over food and drink.