Ailsa Jones, the only candidate for President of the Glasgow University Union, was offered an interview by The Glasgow Guardian about eight or nine times. Most of our requests were ignored until Jones eventually said that she was busy for the entire week leading up to the elections.
Then, as fate would have it, elections were delayed by a week due to the severe weather, so we offered Ailsa the opportunity to discuss her manifesto pledges in a brief ten-minute interview, as every other senior candidate running across the four student bodies had been happy to do. Again, no answer. Ailsa Jones was made President on 5 March at the Annual General Meeting, of which members were given six hours notice in a hastily constructed Facebook post.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the GUU of all unions refuses to be transparent with the student body, but it’s even more baffling that a candidate with no competition would feel the need to so eagerly dodge accountability and happily assume office totally unchallenged. While we may feel inclined to celebrate the GUU finally having another female President after 15 years, the contempt for democracy and fairness displayed by Jones does not fill me with confidence in her upcoming Presidency. The lack of regard for the union’s members, who were given just a few hours notice of the AGM, is incredibly disappointing.
Jones did send us her manifesto, nearly a week after being asked for it. Within it, she mentions increasing engagement by introducing quotas for first years. Jones then vaguely alludes to making members more aware of the benefits of the GUU membership, but fails to outline how exactly she intends to do this.
Her pledge to create committees for operational endeavours such as events and welfare is a sound suggestion and may serve to benefit the union and its members – offering more opportunities to get involved with running the union on a smaller scale and could work as a stepping stone to standing for a position on board. Standing for the first time in an election is an intimidating experience, and this could work to the union’s advantage and give newcomers more confidence and knowledge of the inner workings of the union. However, this does follow on from the four already established committees such as games and entertainments, and could be as simple as expanding the Daft Friday team to an events committee.
Jones pledges to replace the current strategic plan with a new one to place emphasis on the campus redevelopment and intends to “heavily engage” with union members to ensure their voices are heard. She again fails to outline how she will actually implement this pledge and engage members with the upcoming £1 billion campus redevelopment.
In terms of welfare, she suggests advertising the existence of the Duty Board, who look after members and the building at every club night. However, she doesn’t specify how this advertising will occur. Her pledge to continue the safe space policy for the HIVE is hardly radical considering it is currently on a trial run and is in line with initiatives implemented by other university unions across the country and in other nightclubs in Glasgow itself.
Jones plans to re-work board and claims that the current board structure is “another reason for lack of engagement in elections.” She intends to introduce a work rota and a formalized welfare system for board members, as well as introduce incentives and training. All of these are good proposals and take into account a healthy work-life balance for board members.
All in all, Jones’s manifesto seems vague and tends to rehash the ideas of others. This is perhaps understandable, given that there is often a word limit for manifestos – however she does not even hint as to how she plans to carry out her pledges. Had Jones been available for an interview, I perhaps would’ve had better conclusions on her pledges than “vague and unoriginal”.
Maybe this can be viewed as a wider statement on student politics: if people don’t engage or care, candidates don’t feel inclined to do that good of a job, or even try to get elected. This is the third year in a row that a GUU President has been elected unopposed, and it’s the first that a candidate hasn’t thought it necessary to discuss their pledges with the student body. I hope that these trends don’t continue – these are representative roles and as such, the candidates should be held to account by those they represent.
Fortunately, members of the GUU don’t need to decide whether or not to vote for Jones as she has already assumed the position of President uncontested. While the union has come a long way in terms of equality, they remain far behind in terms of democracy.