In the lead up to the Union elections on March 21st and 22nd, Brig has been talking to the candidates running for president. Craig Paton sat down with Craig Forsyth to discuss the main issues facing Stirling students.
Tell us a little about yourself, and why you’re running for Union President.
I’m a 4th year politics and history student. I didn’t really get involved in union politics until 2nd year, when I was part of Christopher Priddle’s campaign. I was helping him canvas on the day of the election and I found it really motivational to see how many students are so dedicated to improve their union and improving the University experience for as many people as possible. It was just one of those things where I realised that this was something that I want to do. Then the following year when we were campaigning to get him re-elected, it really sunk in that this is the best way I can possibly hope to make a difference around here. So I started thinking about possible manifesto points, and I started to realise that what I was creating was a Union President manifesto.
For the Union by-elections in November, voter turnout was only 2% of total students. Why do you think turnout was so low?
I think that the by-elections didn’t get as much coverage as the overall elections. Even on the days of the elections, the Atrium is stuffed with people and you can’t move without getting a leaflet stuck in your face. There just didn’t seem to be anything like the same amount of presence for the mid terms. Which is maybe something to tackle in further years, because engagement is such an important part of Union politics. So few people seem to appreciate how important these elections are, and what their union can do for them, given the mandate. Even in the elections last year, there was, I think, 15% voter turnout, or something like that. Obviously that’s disappointing and it’s something we would like to improve on, because the more students vote, the more of a mandate we have to take to senior management.
What would you try and do to increase voter turnout?
Really just highlight the importance of the work the Union does for students. And just highlighting that the more people that vote, the more seriously we can be taken. There’s a stigma that comes with Union elections, because of the low voter turnout. So really it’s just about getting as many people involved in Union politics as possible.
There’s one thing that stands out with the Union presidential candidates this year, and that’s the fact that they are all white males. What do you think that says about the state of the Union?
I think, certainly compared to last year and the year before, where all the candidates were white, but we did have a closer gender balance. So I think that this year is maybe more of a blip, with regards to the gender balance. But I do think that there is an issue with possible disenfranchisement in BME students, that makes them feel that maybe they can’t participate in the elections in the same way. But again, not being a minority myself it’s not something I can fully understand. So it’s something that as Union president, I’d have to look into, and hopefully engage ethnic minority students.
How would you go about engaging minority students?
Honestly, I don’t know. That would have to be something that we would have to let the affected students lead the way on. It would be incredibly hypocritical for me to tell them why they weren’t voting. Whereas they know better than anyone why they’re not represented in our Union.
You said in your manifesto that you would encourage all of the sports teams to undertake sensitivity training. In recent years, that has only happened twice, with the hockey and football teams. How would you actually be able to get the sports teams to go?
I think the best way is to make it clear to the teams that this is not a punishment. Previously, particularly in regards to hockey and football, their sensitivity training came after their scandal, and by that time it was too late. Students were already at risk. The important thing to remember is that, having been in the hockey team at the time, there was no culture of sexism within the club. I believe it was insensitivity, and not being fully aware of the repercussions of their actions. And that is the purpose of insensitivity training, to protect students from getting themselves into another scandal, by not understanding the repercussions of their actions.
Will the clubs be given an incentive to go?
I think that the football and hockey teams know first hand the downside to not knowing where the line is, not knowing the repercussions of their actions and how their actions can be perceived, which I feel speaks for itself. It’s also a way of bringing positive publicity to all clubs and societies, being able to say that we are taking these steps to make our teams more inclusive. As touched on by Steven Watson, who’s running for Sports President, a lot of the sports teams come off as elitist or guarded, but the reality is very different. The reality in many of these clubs, is that if you go along, they’ll be very happy to speak to you, but they have the reputation of being very much an in-crowd. Sensitivity training, I feel, is certainly a start to breaking down barriers and showing that these clubs are very much for everybody.
Having read your manifesto, a lot of it seems to be quite vague. You say that you’ll put “pressure” on the University, or you would “seek to do” certain things, why do you think that would win you votes?
First of all, I wouldn’t want to make a promise I couldn’t fulfill. But also after shadowing Andrew Kinnell, and becoming a bit more familiar with the role, there are things that I had thought “why doesn’t the Union just do this?” because surely that’s within their mandate. Really, there is so much more to the job than meets the eye. A lot of it is looking to cooperate with senior management, cooperate with other forces, and trying to get a bit of compromise, to get what you want to happen. All of my points in my manifesto are things that I think are achievable, and are certainly things that I want to achieve. I realise that not all of them are going to be possible, mainly because of having to compromise to get some things done. I will certainly look to get all the things on my manifesto done, but I appreciate that there will be constraints as well.
Talking about compromise, Andrew Kinnell managed to reach a deal on University accommodation. This meant that older halls would have their prices frozen for a year, while the newer ones would rise by 2.5%. Do you think this was a good deal?
On the face of it, the deal is very disappointing. The halls are, in my opinion, already over priced, they’re already far too expensive for a student budget. So only a freeze is disappointing, and only a partial freeze is certainly disappointing. But I can appreciate that Andrew fought hard all year, to try and convince the University that this was the best way forward, to actually make cuts and freezes where possible. I think he said that the University is taking a £200,000 hit even just in the freezes they were making, because of the rising cost of University accommodation. So, I think that’s something gives us a great platform to build on, while disappointing on the face of it, but when you look a bit closer you can understand why the compromise was made. But it certainly gives us a point to build on and take it further.
Put in Kinnell’s shoes, would you have made this deal?
It’s very hard to make that decision. Obviously Andrew tried to consult with students as much as possible, and I don’t have all the information he did. We don’t know what other battles he was fighting at the same time. We don’t know if something else was going to be cut if the halls prices were. I would like to say that I would’ve fought harder, but obviously we don’t know everything about it.
You pledged to lower the alcohol prices in the Union, referencing the low prices at Dundee’s Union. Do you think this is necessarily a good idea?
I think that the importance of the Union is that it’s a safe night out for all. As a student only environment it’s probably the safest place for students to drink, but it’s overlooked based on how expensive it can be. Especially compared to the pubs in town. While obviously we are trying to encourage students to think responsibly about how they drink, I think that when students choose to drink, they should be doing it in a safe environment, where they can save money.
You can’t escape the fact that lower prices is something that would encourage people to drink heavier. And having spoken earlier about the sports teams issues, which were all alcohol fuelled, do you think lowering the prices may increase the likelihood of something like that happening again?
You can’t deny the role that alcohol played in these situations, so another battle would be to continue to encourage students to think more about how they drink.
You said that you wanted to increase the availability of recycling facilities in accommodation. What would that involve?
It has been 2 years since I’ve lived on campus but it was difficult to recycle everything. In halls we were always expected to use a recycling box, but they’re wasn’t always somewhere to take it outside your flat. I think that’s something that we need to tackle, we need to be more conscious about the effect the university is having on our planet. It has to one of our chief concerns. But, more than that, we have an incredibly beautiful campus, we’re very lucky with how scenic our campus is. More facilities for recycling or even just waste will help to cut down on littering and help us keep our campus looking as fantastic as it does.
You have stated that you were in favour of the protest at the PolSoc debate featuring an Israeli diplomat. Can we get your thoughts on the protest?
I wasn’t actually there, I had other things on that night, but I fully support both the right for PolSoc to have their event, and the right for it to be protested. I know that sounds like I’m chickening out and not taking a side! I’m completely against non-platforming. Which a lot of the protesters seem to be advocating. For me, that’s not an option. I feel that without an alternative side, you don’t have the opportunity to protest and to get your views across.
At the protest, some of our reporters saw what they believed to be an attempt to shame those who attended the debate. Do you think that’s the right way to go about it?
You’ll probably notice this as a bit of a common theme, but I do think that the best way to combat almost every issue is through further education, further discussion about why we’re protesting the visit of an Israeli diplomat, about why we’re legitimising the state of Israel. Not shaming, not embarrassing and not being aggressive.
If elected, what would you hope to achieve in your first 100 days?
I would certainly like to have re-structured the pricing of alcohol in the union, I definitely think that’s achievable. I would like to open a dialogue with senior management about the rent issue. I would also like to have in place schemes to help with mental health awareness and tackling the stigma that surrounds it.