Read our interviews with the other sabbatical-elects:
- Teddy Woodhouse, DoRep-elect
- Kelsey Gold, DoSDA-elect
- Dan Palmer, DoES-elect
- Jess Walker, AU President-elect
How was Election night?
It was horrible. I was really surprised by how close it was. Last year there was a good joke candidate; it was funny, it was interesting, and he came out last so I sort of assumed that it would happen again.
What do you think it says about student politics and political engagement in St Andrews, that Jamie Ross, the joke candidate came so close to victory?
I don’t know whether it’s because he’s really well known and he writes a lot. I don’t know if it’s because people don’t really understand the position. I’d like to speak to people who voted for him and find out. I have a couple of fourth year friends who said they considered voting for him because they were leaving and it was funny. It might have been that, who knows.
What do you plan to do then to engage students in the political process?
The major problem this year is that no-one really has any idea what the Union has done. We didn’t have the Sabb column in The Saint and there weren’t obvious ways of people finding out. The first direction to go in is to ensure that students actually understand what the job is and that people can make a difference with it.
In that case, why do you think you won?
I had the most coherent policies. I feel a lot of the other candidates had buzzwords or big ideas but no actual policies. When it’s written down on paper and people are going through, they might think: “This person wants to talk about community or accommodation. Or, as in my case, this person actually has three clear policies.” So I think that definitely helped a lot.
With regard to your policies, do you not think you’ve been too ambitious?
Maybe – the fixing of fees for international students is a policy that’s already happening. We’ve got a meeting with management on 18 March so that’s something that will potentially happen before I even take the job. The Scottish Sabbatical Forum is something I can start. The business plan is pretty much written for the Union letting agency and I want to talk to Residential Business Services (RBS) again. A lot of the other policies are more a case of lobbying the University. I would like to think that, by the end of the year, the Union letting agency had been started and that international tuition fees will be fixed. I really think the University will struggle not to do that. I think that we’ll have a Sabb forum and I hope that students will have a greater understanding of what’s happening in the Union.
How do you respond to critics who say that you have prioritised these bigger policies over the redevelopment?
I did that on purpose because I think the Union redevelopment has to be done by all Sabbs so that’s not a top policy because it’s obvious. The redevelopment is happening; it started last week. We need Sabbs that know what the timeframe is and know that we need to have a good relationship with the University.
Do you think lobbying the University about all these big policies will help Union-University relations?
Well I received an email from Louise Richardson (St Andrews Principal) saying she was looking forward to working with me. I think this year’s been really successful in terms of building relations with the University. They know what I plan to do; I’ve spoken to them about a lot of it. It’s about phrasing it positively; not just getting on the defensive and saying: “You must do this”, but rather, “This is a question of progression”. When the University gets upset with the Union, it’s normally not a question of the policy, but the way in which it’s presented. If we can put it in a positive light and show the University that it’s a good thing, I think we’ll be alright.
How do you think your predecessors have fared?
Freddie has certainly done very well with improving relations with the University. Patrick had some big ideas but he dealt with being President really badly and burnt bridges that didn’t need to be burnt. I was constantly furious with him. He achieved a lot but I worry that people forget that and only remember that he upset everyone. There were areas such as fees or accommodation that communication with the University completely broke down. I think he could have been a good President; he wasn’t as good as I wanted him to be at all. He upset too many people and was too aggressive in the way he did everything.
What’s next then?
Well I have a dissertation to write that I haven’t even started. We have a meeting to talk about international tuition fees and I’m going to start getting in contact with my counterparts around the country.
Are you planning to use a social media?
Yes – I had two Chloe Hill Facebook profiles last week, a personal one and one which I launched my campaign from. I don’t necessarily agree with it but students are definitely more likely to read Facebook than emails. It’s clearly the best way of engaging with people. I worry that it’s too simple though; Facebook policies aren’t great and may lead to trolling. On the other hand, it’s the best way of publicising everything that’s happening in the Union. I don’t understand Twitter unfortunately. I hate it and I’m getting rid of it. I might have a blog but announcements about what the Sabbs are doing should come from student media and I worry that a presidential blog might confuse people, or they’ll just stop reading it.
Are you pleased with the team you’ve got?
Yes, I’m really happy with the colleagues I’ve got. I couldn’t be more pleased that Dan (Palmer) was successful because the Union will be a nightmare and I think he was the only person who was able to deal with it from the beginning. The reason no-one ran against Kelsey (Gold) is because she is the best. Teddy (Woodhouse) and Pei (Liu) were both excellent.