Interview: Students’ Association presidential candidate Sam Cowling

In your manifesto you call for the Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson to resign. How do you propose going about making this happen? Is this a realistic and practical manifesto policy given Mathieson has only just begun his tenure at Edinburgh?

If it can be done in Bath it can be done here. We need to make a statement of intent, we need to protest and demonstrate that we’re not just going to forget about this. It will be difficult. It might not be possible to achieve in one year. However, it’s most definitely in the interest of students and isn’t that who the President should represent?

 

But how do you propose establishing and maintaining an effective working relationship with Mathieson, crucial to the role of Students’ Association President, at the same time as you are calling for him to resign? 

I’d work closely with him, it’s part of the job. However, I’d make all correspondence public knowledge. If people are worried about having an effective working relationship, I’ll show them the relationship, and they can judge it for themselves. None of this is prevented by establishing my stance on the matter as crystal clear.

 

How would you define ‘low-income’ when creating a role of ‘low-income’ officer?

It would be self defined. People who are struggling know they’re struggling. If you’re working a job and can barely pay your rent and buy food, let alone go for a drink once in a while, you deserve representation.

 

You want to fight for the removal of all safe space policies, censorship and no-platforming. Could you please explain why?

I believe censorship is a bad thing. I was raised on the values of freedom of thought, expression and speech. We’re supposed to be an academic institution where debate is encouraged and yet we stifle it instead. Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote, “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, and for me it’s as simple as that. If you think your opinion is right, if you are convinced that someone else is wrong, then its up to you to challenge what they are saying. I will challenge the views that I think are abhorrent, and the actions I disagree with, but I will not censor people because I disagree with them.

 

The current Students’ Association ‘no platforming’  policy only extends to speakers who directly incite violence. Would you really be comfortable with a speaker who incites violence speaking at the University?

As long as what they’re saying isn’t illegal, then they would be free to speak if they were invited to do so. I would also be there to challenge what they were saying.

 

There are only six organisations currently on the Students’ Association’s  ‘no platform’ list – the organisations compiled by NUS UK. They are: TAl-Muhajiroun; British National Party (BNP); English Defence League (EDL); Hizb-ut-Tahir; Muslim Public Affairs Committee; and National Action. Is it unreasonable to suggest that members of these groups can only cause harm and not any good by speaking on campus?

It’s not unreasonable to not want them to speak, I just don’t agree with it as a policy. Tommy Robinson spoke at the Oxford Union and it was an interesting talk to listen to. I don’t agree with his politics, and I disagreed with a lot of what he said, but good luck arguing he caused harm to anyone. I sound like a broken record, but If you don’t like what someone is saying then challenge them on it, or don’t go to their talk at all. I’m a bisexual man, a lot of what these groups say is homophobic and yet despite being a target of their hate I still think they should be allowed to speak.

 

What sets you apart from other candidates? 

I’m a lot less amicable. I’m the only candidate who has called for the resignation of Mathieson as a clear sign of intention to go after the administration when it acts against students interests.

 

What do you think will be the most difficult part of your manifesto to achieve? 

All of it. This isn’t a quick one year process, but a statement of intent that our union needs to stop paying lip service to the University.

 

What are your opinions on the UCU industrial action and the Student’s Association’s decision to support it?

100 per cent the correct decision. The way our lecturers and tutors and other members of the UCU are being treated is despicable. The university owes it to them to provide a decent pension and to us to reimburse us for the service this institution failed to provide. Striking is a right, and anyone who decides to do it has my full support.

 

The university has recently announced its full divestment from fossil fuels. Do you welcome this decision? Do you believe there is more work to be done in making the University more sustainable?

Fantastic news. I may seem a wee bit critical of the university, but they are doing good things as well. I would love to see a reduction in the amount of plastic used in university cafes and union buildings but I’m confident in the universities commitment to the environment.

 

What are your thoughts on the notion that stopping student population expansion does not mean less accessibility for people of different backgrounds?

Stopping student population expansion will be what the university makes of it. If they decide that they want to get the most international students who will pay the highest fees, then that’s what they’ll do. There’s no winner in student population expansion. Disadvantaged students will only be worse off in university support systems that are underfunded and oversubscribed.

 

https://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/representation/elections/manifesto/2199/

 

Image: Sam Cowling

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