For a couple of hundred hardy hacks it’s Christmas again, as student politics season rolls around once more. The Edinburgh University Student’s Association (EUSA) elections are well underway: the poster war has been fought, the debates have put the candidates to the sword and first years will soon find themselves perpetually answering their doors to wannabe sabbaticals, conveners and campaign organisers. So are the elections important or relevant to ordinary students?
There has been an increasing anti-establishment angst over the last few years from many Edinburgh students who feel that EUSA is an irrelevant, if not malign, organisation that’s only goal is to strip its members of their freedoms. This is unfair but it’s clear why it happens. When students go to events and eat and drink in Teviot they often don’t realise that the venue is run by EUSA. They don’t realise that The Big Cheese, an institution amongst University of Edinburgh students, is run by EUSA. The lack of positive recognition that EUSA receives means that the union has only been in the news for the wrong reasons: the song “Blurred Lines” was banned in EUSA venues just over a year ago and in recent weeks the ‘strawpedo’ ban came into effect, causing mass outrage.
It would be wrong to blame the students for feeling like EUSA is irrelevant and out of touch with their wants (it is a membership organisation after all). So is EUSA itself to blame? Probably a bit, but probably not as much as popular opinion would have it. As with most political organisations, when you do something good you can market it all you like and nobody will bat an eyelid. But if you do something unpopular all hell breaks loose. This has certainly been the case in EUSA’s recent history.
So what to do to combat this? Well there has been a big drive from EUSA to encourage people to stand and vote in the elections this year after what was a somewhat dismal voter turnout of less than five thousand (under 17 per cent of members) a year ago. Unfortunately candidates often find themselves between a rock and a hard place, trying to drive up voter turnout by piquing the interest of students with often unfeasible policies, which in turn alienates those who know that those promises will never be kept. It’s hard enough to convince students to vote in national elections, let alone convince them to cast a vote that frankly, is unlikely to change their lives at all given the limits of what EUSA can achieve.
And it still seems particularly difficult to win an election unless you’re a seasoned EUSA politics veteran with an equally experienced campaign team. All of last year’s winners had been floating around student politics circles for a long time and it looks likely that this year will be no different. There is a distinct advantage for candidates who have experienced a campaign and know what they’re doing and how best to squeeze votes out of the small number who feel they should vote.
One interesting development that could be very influential though, is the exponential rise of The Tab, a national, online, student tabloid. The paper has already added a lot of fuel to the fire by openly slamming one of the presidential candidates, for comments she made on social media, sparking an online petition to have her candidacy rescinded. It’s not pretty politics and it’s rather unfair. But, ‘It’s The Tab wot won it’, doesn’t seem such an unlikely headline in student union elections to come.