The Students’ Association election season is upon us. Brightly coloured posters are displayed throughout George Square. Social media is saturated with campaign propaganda, and enthusiastic candidates are frantically trying to engage with students across campus.
Despite the significance of these elections, the number of actual voters is dismally low. Last year, only 4,011 of our 36,491-strong student body participated in the vote for President, and the figure was as low as 1,900 for paid, full-time positions such as Vice President Services. This begs the question: if as few as 5.2 per cent of students are voting, do the officers have a strong enough mandate to represent us at the highest levels of university governance? It is vital that more students vote in these elections, in order to make the Students’ Association the most democratic, representative, and effective institution it can be.
Few seem to adhere to the old ‘if you don’t vote, you can’t complain’ trope, since criticism of the Students’ Association is rife. Recent years have seen them being branded ‘heartless killjoys’ for banning ‘strawpedoing’, national media has extensively covered various controversies at student council meetings, and one popular Edimeme post urges students to “give up” relying on the Students’ Association “if you want to be happy”. The most effective way of voicing these grievances is by engaging with the Students’ Association and voting for candidates who share your policy priorities and vision of what our university should be like.
Furthermore, many fail to realise that the scope of the Students’ Association’s influence is extremely wide. They run and manage numerous venues around Edinburgh, from KB House to Teviot, employing hundreds of students in the process. The Students’ Association liberation groups are a great source of support to marginalised groups on campus. The Students’ Association influences the content of our curriculum, coursework extension policies and teaching style by working with each academic faculty at the University. They provide societies with the space, organisational structure and resources they need, as well as organising Welcome Week, running the Big Cheese, and keeping us well-nourished with the universally-revered Teviot nachos. It seems that the Students’ Association has more of an effect on the running of our university than students realise.
In addition, the actions of our elected, salaried, full-time sabbatical officers have a great impact on our day-to-day lives. Their recent policy achievements include free student bus travel between campuses, keeping the library open 24 hours a day, making recordings of every lecture available online, and abolishing the minimum card spend in the Students’ Association’s shops and venues. Real, tangible changes happen as a result of whom we elect; changes that make small improvements to the lives of every student. By engaging with the candidates and voting for those who have policies that resonate with us, we ensure that positive changes occur on campus.
In short: make your voice heard in the elections. Engage with candidates, find out how they can solve your problems and most importantly: vote. The Students’ Association’s actions and policies have a profound effect on the way our university functions, the things we learn and the wellbeing of our students. It is therefore vital that we vote in order to ensure that the Students’ Association works for us.
Image: Thurston Smalley