The Student Union exists, according to their website, “solely for The University of St Andrews students. We are here to make the student experience as strong as it can be, provide services you need and represent your views to the University and beyond.” The Union does, on the whole, do a good job of making the student experience here excellent – the university is after all the University of the Year for student experience, again. While I understand that the Student Association should represent our views to the University, I fail to see how or why it is required to represent our views outside of St Andrews on politically contentious issues on matters that are not related to student experience. On such matters, it should be apolitical.
In St Andrews they do their best to represent our views on housing summed up as too expensive due to too little supply, our views on tuition fees, and various other topics which are of paramount importance to the student experience. If for example, Westminster was to decide to arbitrarily triple tuition fees for English students, I would expect the Association President to write to our local MP, perhaps talk to the Rector, and maybe get in touch with other student Union presidents to present a concerted front. This is something which is directly related to the Union’s mission to make student experience as good as possible because if fees go up that has an obvious detrimental impact on students, especially as the service provided would probably remain the same. Furthermore, the University, for obvious reasons, is hardly going to be arguing very strongly for cheaper tuition fees. This presentation of a united front, after all, was the original purpose of the National Union of Students before it took leave of its senses and started issuing diktats about foreign policy – it is perhaps understandable why St Andrews is not a member…
So the Union should, if it is trying to represent all of its members, be an apolitical organization to the best of its ability. This means that Sabbaticals officers should not abuse their positions to pursue personal grievances with national policy. Just as we do not expect the Student Union to declare that it is now supporting the Monster Raving Loony Party or to take a stance on who should be President of the United States, we do not expect it to take issue with matters of foreign policy such as Brexit, as such issues are only tangentially relevant to our experience as students at the University of St Andrews. Any such engagement in national political discourse which has an indirect and oblique impact on our student experience here at St Andrews should not be engaged in at all. If we want that kind of overreach, we should just re-join the National Union of Students and be done with it. The Union needs to read its own mission statement and focus on student experience. Affairs of state need not concern them. If individual students are concerned about political issues, then they should write to the MP for North East Fife or the local Member of Scottish Parliament. Both of our representative at Westminster and at Holyrood are elected precisely to hear our views about issues of national importance. The Student Union need not get involved.
The Association president has responsibility for student-university relations, community relations, and matters of national representation when “responding to consultations or decisions made by Westminster and Holyrood on behalf of St Andrews students.” This is taken directly from the Union website page about the president. The key is that the President should only respond to consultations or decisions on behalf of St Andrews students. It should really also say “on behalf of St Andrews students when they are directly affeted,” but I would assume this is implicit given that the Student Association focus is on promoting a good student experience. What this means is that the Union should be apolitical and that Sabbaticals officers, while acting in that capacity, should not get involved in politics or make political statements. As private individuals they are free to do whatever they want. Just as it is a breach of Union rules for political campaign slogans or leaflets to be distributed inside the building, those who are employed by the Union should make sure to remain politically neutral. Sabbatical officers are not running as the Liberal Democrat candidate or the Scottish Nationalist candidate, they are running to represent us. They should be focusing on increasing the number of candidates in the next Association election, so that we get the best representation possible, rather than firing off letters to Downing Street.
Featured photo: The University of St Andrews Students Association