What can we learn about student politics from this year’s elections?

Conor Matchett recently wrote a piece in this section about the viability of candidates’ policies, and this is something which continued to bother me in this election cycle. There is little point in having candidates who run on platforms which promise changes that they are incapable of delivering. My favourite candidate this year was the newly elected Informatics Convenor James Friel, his first manifesto point was “a slightly warmer Drill Hall”. Having such straightforward policies which directly related to student experience and were clearly actionable is indicative of someone who is aware of the remit and nature of their role.

Last night I was canvassing my flatmates for their opinion on how to win a EUSA election, and we came to the consensus that running on a platform of “a microwave, and maybe a grill, for every study space” would be the number one policy. It is easily costed, definitely possible and would have a measurable impact on students’ welfare as they work late through the night. If a candidate is going to propose a policy, they should be prepared to provide evidence which shows their capacity to achieve that manifesto point, otherwise our elections become a game of silly boasts and buzzwords.

One of the most bizarre moments of the candidates’ debate at Edinburgh Question Time was the suggestion that being political was somehow a negative quality with which to be associated. Equally weird were the ongoing suggestions that X candidate was in Y clique; whether it is the Young Labour brigade, Edinburgh Student Left, North American Society, or ‘student media’, of course candidates will have taken an interest and won the support of a particular circle of friends. The fact that these circles intersect and overlap so much only underlines this fact; it is highly likely that a person interested in student politics will air their views in the student newspaper and run for roles in societies and groups that they care about. Being political, and being engaged in your community, is a bonus and not something which should be thrown around as a means to undermine candidates.

We need to put more focus on our ability to recall and hold candidates to account, especially those who win salaried or sabbatical roles. If successful candidates consistently fail to meet their manifesto promises, or are not actively engaged with their roles, we need to exercise our right to proper representation and recall these candidates.

If the newly elected president fails to deliver ‘one app to rule them all’ and better transportation links, then we should hold him to his campaign promises and ensure that we send out the clear message that manifesto pledges have to be serious goals and not just a way of branding yourself in an attractive manner. If we allow candidates to get away with boastful exaggerations of their abilities, we are effectively permitting them to defraud the students at this university in a very cynical and calculated manner.

In future, we need to make sure that our elections are better ‘fact-checked’.This would mean that candidates who run on bogus platforms are immediately held to account and not allowed to get away with nonsense campaigning. Equally this would mean that should negative campaigning rear its ugly face then we can put to rest slanderous rumours about biases, favours, and collusions.

If people are going to take EUSA seriously we need to make sure that it presents itself as such and that it is held to high standards, otherwise we risk March becoming silly season on campus and producing a process which increasingly alienates and disenfranchises the student body.

Image: Beth

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