University of Glasgow front gates. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Four candidates confirmed for 2024 Rectorial election

By Odhran Gallagher, Jan Jasinski, Alan Rubin Castejon

Four candidates have been nominated in the upcoming 2024 University of Glasgow Rectorial elections. Following the Monday deadline for nominations, the confirmed candidates have been revealed by the University: Dr Ghassan S. Abu-Sittah, Susan McCabe, Lady Rita Rae, and Paul Sweeney MSP. 

The Rector is a student-elected position on the university court (the governing body of the University), and the intention is that they will represent student issues. Rectors serve for a period of three years—the current rector is the lawyer and judge Lady Rita Rae, who is seeking re-election.

Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah

Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah is a British-Palestinian Associate Professor of Surgery. He is an alumnus of the University, having completed his medical education at the University of Glasgow in 1993. Abu-Sittah’s work has specialised in paediatric craniofacial surgery, cleft surgery, and trauma reconstruction, although he has also worked in the private sector in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Throughout his career, he continued to work in conflict zones, including South Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza. At the outbreak of the current war in Israel and Palestine, he entered the Gaza Strip to volunteer in field hospitals. He has been a prominent critic of the Israeli Defence Force’s actions in Gaza and was featured on BBC Newsnight and Sky News in recent months to discuss the war in Israel and Palestine. 

In his manifesto, Abu-Sittah said he is running in order to provide “students the opportunity to declare their opposition to Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza.” His four pledges are to “pressure the University to officially and unequivocally condemn Israel’s ongoing genocidal campaign in Gaza,” “call for the University of Glasgow to divest from the arms trade,” “forge new connections and reinforce existing partnerships with the leading universities in Palestine,” and “call for the replacement of the IHRA definition with the Jerusalem Declaration on anti-Semitism,” which doesn’t link criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism.

Abu-Sittah has been endorsed by the UofG Student Solidarity Coalition on Instagram, and their post announcing him as a candidate has garnered over 1,700 likes.

Susan McCabe

Susan McCabe is a local comedian from the East End of Glasgow. After training as an electrician, and a successful career in the construction industry, she moved into stand-up comedy. McCabe has experienced a swift rise in the Scottish comedy circuit, hosting Hogmanay in Edinburgh, opening for Kevin Bridges, and recently recording her ‘Femme Fatality’ BBC special in front of a sold-out King’s Theatre in Glasgow. McCabe is known for her pro-SNP views, and has frequently appeared as a guest on the BBC’s Debate Night and Question Time.

The comedian has also recently deleted her Twitter account, following an article in the Scottish Daily Express which highlighted some of her old tweets, described as “derogatory” and “offensive”. 

McCabe’s manifesto has focused on supporting students and enabling them to stay in education, despite potentially challenging circumstances, stating: “This generation of students hasn’t had it easy. You’ve had to contend with the cost-of-living crisis, Brexit and Covid. Many more are being diagnosed with mental health problems and neuro-diversities. Even those of you from seemingly privileged backgrounds have struggled. I would take a keen interest in what additional support the University offers.”

McCabe’s nomination was led by student Gemma McLaughlin, a member of Young Scots for Independence, the SNP’s nationwide youth wing. The Glasgow University Student Nationalist Association (GUSNA), the SNP’s UofG branch, has not endorsed McCabe nor any other candidate as of 23 January. Gemma McLaughlin told The Glasgow Guardian: “I chose to nominate Susie Mccabe as Rector because, for her as a working class lesbian, going to university seemed an impossible dream. Sadly, the problems that excluded Susie persist today and for many university is still an impossible dream. Be that due to the cost of living crisis, poverty, cost of student housing, gender or sexuality or disability.”

Lady Rita Rae

The Honourable Lady Rita Rae is the current Rector of the University of Glasgow and has held the position since 2021. Charles Kennedy, the late leader of the Liberal Democrats, was the last Rector to be re-elected, when he was chosen by students for a second term in 2011.

After graduating with a Law degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1972 she quickly rose through the ranks of her profession, being appointed to the faculty of advocates in 1982 and was permanently appointed as a High Court Judge in 2014. In 2019, Lady Rae was also awarded an Honorary doctorate in Laws from the University of Glasgow in recognition of her career and contribution to the legal world. 

However, Rita Rae’s rectorship has been subject to some criticism. In an editorial by The Glasgow Guardian published last year, Rita Rae was accused of being an absentee Rector. Lady Rae responded to these accusations in a recent interview with The Tab Glasgow, in which she shared her frustrations that the position of Rector, and what it entails, is widely unknown among the student body, adding that she “want[s] students to approach her” rather than the other way around.

Lady Rae was also criticised by Member of Parliament for Ochil and South Perthshire and candidate for Rector in the last election John Nicolson, who called the claim that she was an absentee Rector “very disappointing but not surprising”. 

Lady Rae’s manifesto focuses on Widening Participation and Student Safety. It appears to resemble her manifesto in 2021, which contained the same focuses. However, Lady Rae’s former manifesto’s commitment to promoting multiculturalism and internationalism were not included in the newest iteration. She has been endorsed by the Glasgow University Catholic Association, who told The Glasgow Guardian: “[Lady Rae] has done an excellent job, and we would like to see her continue her great commitment to all of UofG’s students. Notably, her success in working impartially on behalf of all students and her successful rector surgeries.”

Paul Sweeney MSP

Paul Sweeney graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2011 with an honours degree in Economic & Social History and Political Science. While at University he was involved in Union Debating and the Dialectic Society, of which he is an honorary member. Sweeney last visited the Glasgow University Union this month on 12 January to take part in a show debate: together with fellow MSPs Paul O’Kane and Michelle Thomson, he argued that the UK Government has failed this generation, in which his side of the house was victorious. 

After leaving University, Paul Sweeney joined a graduate development programme with BAE Systems, a major military shipbuilder based on the Clyde. The University has been criticised by some student groups for hosting BAE Systems events on campus, given its involvement in the arms trade. BAE Systems is notably absent from his candidate biography, instead mentioning how he “followed generations of his family into the Clyde shipbuilding industry.”

Sweeney then unsuccessfully ran for office in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election. He was elected for Glasgow North East in the 2017 UK Parliament election, before being unseated in 2019 by SNP MP Anne McLaughlin. He then ended up being elected as a Labour Party list candidate for the Glasgow region in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, later being appointed Scottish Labour’s Shadow Mental Health Minister for Scotland. During his career as an MSP, Sweeney has championed causes such as safe drug consumption sites and the improvement of Glasgow’s public transport system. 

In his manifesto, Paul Sweeney has made reference to the housing crisis, student wellbeing, and student-staff solidarity as well as pledging that “as Rector, Paul will be accessible, available and proactive – the student body deserve nothing less. Paul will hold monthly surgeries as well as regular ‘walk-abouts’ on campus to give students the opportunity to voice concern.”

Paul Sweeney has been nominated and endorsed by the Glasgow University Union, and endorsed by the Glasgow University Labour Club.

Voting for the next Rector of the University of Glasgow is due to open on 25 March. All candidates’ manifestos can be viewed on the University website here.


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