The Association President, along with the Director of Representation, is responsible for representing student interests to the University and external organisations, including the government. They are helped by the Students’ Representative Council in their activities, and they in turn control the SRC’s discretionary fund.
What experience do you have that makes you suited to this role?
A lot, I’ve been working on committees since my first year, I was a hall sports representative in Regs [St Regulus Hall] which was great. Most recently I was on the SRC and SSC as Environment and Ethics officer, but what I really want to stress is that I really came out of political nowhere, I was involved in societies a lot before I did that and I did that role amazingly. To any candidate that doesn’t seem to have experience, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to do an awesome job. The presidency should be based on ability not experience.
If you were elected what would be your aims while in office?
Quite a few, the first that I like to talk about is involvement with the students. I think to have a blog and a Twitter account is awesome, and to have open surgeries is really cool and it is good we have moved more towards that, but I want to go to the obvious next step which is actually being out at all these events that societies are having and being a part of that community.
Another thing that I care about is informing people of what the reality is of the office of the presidency. A lot of people think that we can come in and wave a magic wand and “poof!” tuition fees are lowered; that is not even close to the case and it is distressing that people keep running each year saying “we are going to lower tuition fees” when that is just not something that you can do. So I want to let people know what the Union President actually does because I think it is either vague or students have no idea at all.
The bit that sort of goes along with that is a personal project I started at the Environment and Ethics position. It is called Green Grant and what it is, is a discretionary fund on the SRC of like £6,000/£8,000 and I created this application, that comes from the [University] Estates and Planning website right now but it will come from the Union website eventually. It lets you apply for a grant if you have a green idea or project; what I want to do is put it on the main Union website so anyone can use it because right now it seems you need twenty-five people or your ideas don’t count – you get a society and you get money to do things. I don’t think that is fair, you could have two people with an idea and you should have funding for it. We have it lying around and we have spent maybe £300 of it, all on my stuff I think – I’d fact check that – but I’m pretty sure we haven’t really spent any of it.
Why should people vote for you?
It’s sort of the magic wand thing. I’m not coming in as “I’m going to change so much” or “I want this on my CV”, I want to actually better the student experience for the people who are coming in after me and I think I’m probably the best person to do that. Do check out the other candidates and see what they are saying though. I’m very grounded in the reality of this position and I’m very involved with students, so the combination of wanting to get out there and be with you guys while still knowing the restraints of my job – I can’t go up in arms to the University and say “you give us this accommodation or, I don’t know, I’ll light the library on fire”; that is not going to happen.
Anything to add?
The thing me and my flatmate thought about last night – we were sitting there thinking “what else can we add to the campaign, it is pretty straightforward” – was the different levels that the Union president works on that I’m not sure people are aware of. There is the student level where you are out interacting with students, there is a Union level where we are working to secure funding for the redevelopment, which is still something that is being worked on this year; I think I’m clear-headed enough to sit down in meetings that last for two hours and do that.
Then there is the Union-University level and the national level, which is kind of an intangible thing and we had the NUS referendum and we talked about joining the NUS; I’m not going to say one thing or the other about the NUS, but I think you can create ways for students to join together [without] necessarily having a structure and bring about meaningful change. I can’t say I will promise to do that because the national level is the hardest one and I’m never going to say I promise that – anyone can say that but as an international student it strikes home to me that I’m going to have a really good degree and then I get kicked out of the country. So I really would like to work on that and make sure something is happening. I have a friend getting married to an American who can’t stay, [and] there is the big fancy case. So I want to work on all these levels at once but it is important to maintain that you can do a lot on a student level, you can do a little less on the Union/University level and you can do even less on the national level – but I’m still going to be working really hard to make sure I can do as much as possible.
One of your main points is about the relationship between student views and a solid relationship with the University. What type of balance do you want to strike and how do you think the current president has done?
I think Freddie has done a really terrific job and I think Freddie has not publicised what he has done as much as would help out with students. There was a recent thing on The Saint for instance where some student wrote some comments, “I’d rather have Patrick O’Hare any day” and what Patrick did – I think he is a fantastic guy and he really fought for students – but what he did was walk into these meetings with real belligerence, saying “these are our rights, this is what we deserve and you need to give them to us”. I’m not willing to do that but I’m also not willing to not get students behind me and students talking about it, which is what it seems like Freddie has not done. I want to hit the middle of it and the phrase I have used on my website is ‘Stern Compromise’: I want to go in there and say “students think this but let’s hear your side of the argument”. I always want the student side to win and we are going to formulate ideas and get the facts straight right away the first time and be able to go in there and say on any issue “OK your side says this but we also have this, and this, and this” and after that we are going to take it to the press to tell students “this was what went down”, and present it fairly and I want to make sure issues are represented as they are and not on a student bias.
You said about disruptions caused by the redevelopment to society space, “We are going to get through this” – how?
It is a very interesting position. I think the most experience I have of this is playing in a band; apparently I played in the loudest band that has ever been in St Andrews. Bruce [Turner, the Union’s Building Supervisor] hated us, we were called Near Escape Velocity, by the end of last year there was no space left for us but we still kept finding ways to do it. Which was difficult and involved a lot of hard work on mine and our drummer’s part to make sure that we could source a room each day. With redevelopment this [the Union] is getting bulldozed – well not bulldozed, it would be interesting to have a bulldozer up here – but with the band practice sometimes we could have the beer bar downstairs and then sometimes the same time the next week, even if we’d booked it in advance, [we] just couldn’t get it because they had to put something else there. So we’d go to Younger Hall or we’d go have an acoustic practice at the Mansfield, so I want to make a very serious list and work closely with the DoSDA and DoES and have a list of all the rooms available throughout the University. If someone comes in they should be able to see that list and who has booked a room throughout the University at any point in time and hopefully that can be electronic.
Are you hoping to incorporate this into the new Union website designs?
Exactly, so you can have that, see what is taken up and hopefully you can even sign up on the website and say I want this room. You come in, you state specifically why you are getting that room, so that no one is throwing birthday parties – we’ll have checks for that. That is a very tangible thing we can do, but again that is not directly within my remit as Union President; it is working with all the sabbatical officers, so it has to have everyone on board and then also the people who are doing website design because I’d have no idea what the hell I’d be doing.
You want to expand on the SRC Accommodation survey, in what way?
The Accommodation survey has really flipped the decision of what the University was going to do – they were going to build low-cost accommodation and what that would do would settle people from lower socio-economic backgrounds into one section which is sort of what already happened with Albany and Fife Park. So the University thought they could just keep doing that but what the student accommodation survey showed was that actually this wasn’t the case – surprise, surprise – and that students would rather pay different rents to live in the same hall. So back in Regs you could have one person paying full hall fees, I had a giant room in Regs and you have me paying slightly more to subsidise someone who would pay the fees of Albany Park to also live in Regs. I want to make sure that this is being followed up to the best of my ability. This is not me walking in somewhere and saying “Lower rents now!” or somehow collectively taking the Union’s money and forming our own letting agency, which I have seen people banter about. Those aren’t tangible things and those aren’t things that fall within the president’s remit, unfortunately. It would be great to walk outside and be like “I’m buying that house and we’re going to put students in there, we’re going to subsidise it with Union money” but what we can do is create bursaries which is cool and look towards more fundraising and that sort of thing.
Have you spoken to the University about funding more bursaries?
Yes I have, I work in the Development office and I can assure you that I think right now I have raised enough money for between six and ten new £1000 bursaries for students coming in from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The Development office is very hard at work doing that and I will continue to work with them to make sure they keep this part of their campaign each year.
On widening access you have plans for a student version of the Ever to Excel film, why do you think that is needed and how would you create it?
The ‘Champagning’ thing I thought was very funny, it typified some people that are here, I think they are a funny group of people – I have friends who are like those people and there is nothing wrong with being posh. I want to make that very clear. What is bad though is when people outside of this University think that they can’t come here because it only caters to the uber-rich and that is obviously not the case. I’m from a very middle class background and I have friends from lower class and upper class backgrounds and the beautiful thing about St Andrews is that at the end of the day no one gives a fuck. The people that do care are the media who continue to see things like the University of St Andrews Ever to Excel video where in the trailer you have Sean Connery talking and showing all the old stuff and how grand we are. That kind of stuff, it works to foster development and giving from rich alumni, which is the point of the Ever to Excel video but it doesn’t help with widening access. So we need between the Union and the University we need to look at a way to show students’ views on what the University is like, along with the University’s heritage. Whether that works with the Union and University is a thing to be seen but from a Union standpoint we can utilise Bubble TV, we can use Re Pictures and we can do this and make our own, even mockumentary and then show this is the Cathedral, this is the Quad, then Raisin Weekend and you see what students do and how we live normally in this town. I think that by actively going out, not just into schools which is a great starting point, but having this YouTube image of the diverse side of St Andrews, the normal side of St Andrews I think would help a lot.
Are you focusing on changing the media perceptions then of St Andrews?
Yes, because no matter what we do as soon as something comes out like ‘Champagning’ or anything like that suddenly it is back to “St Andrews home of Prince William and only posh people can come here” and that is ridiculous. I didn’t even know Prince William had come here when I applied; maybe that was just me being head in the clouds but people should come here and look at the league tables, and look at student satisfaction. That is why people should be applying and not for perception.
Any final thoughts on the campaign?
One of the things I am very keen about has been not spamming this campaign. We have a large set of election rules that say you can’t run into tutorials any more and shout the president’s name and stop tutorials, you can’t campaign in the library while other people are reading. We have a budget system in place that says you can’t spend over this amount even if you have access to money over that. All of these things are about making student democracy work better and be more equal, for example if you have a bar job at Aikman’s you can’t throw your opening or closing party there because that is using your position unfairly. I think the same should go towards popularity contests, which are in a sense when you have a group of twenty people on one campaign team outside the library throwing flyers in your face, shouting, obstructing people from getting to classes. I’m not at all saying let’s get rid of the fun, open student atmosphere of things but I am saying that it distorts information because the more people you have outside handing out flyers, what they are trying to do is direct you back to the website to read the policies, but what is actually happening is people aren’t giving a shit and are crumpling up the thing, remembering that name and when they see it they write it down. That is what a lot of campaigns are structured on and I think that that is unfair.
Going back to last year David ‘Fifa’ Gossage got a ridiculous amount of votes – joke candidates are funny, but we got past the next highest university for turnout largely thanks to a joke campaign. That’s not student democracy, that is just a popularity contest. What I am really trying to hit home on in this campaign, and it could be a losing strategy because getting your name out there really does help, is I want to direct people back so they can listen to STAR, they can read The Saint, so they can come to the hecklings or hear the podcasts of the hecklings. Students are capable and should be making the decision based off of that and not “this guy is my friend, all my friends say vote for this guy”. I think that is the future of campaigning here and in the world and I want to make sure we are doing things right when we have our democracy.