• Sun. Dec 10th, 2023

Post-election interviews: EUSA sabbatical team 2016-17

ByEthan DeWitt

Mar 13, 2016

On Friday night, 65 students were elected to representative positions in Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA), taking the roles of school conveners, campaign organisers, representatives and sabbatical officers. The Student caught up with each of the sabbatical winners shortly after the results to talk campaign tactics, policies, and initial reactions.

Interviews conducted Friday, 11 March. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.


President-elect: Alec Edgecliffe-Johnson

Third-year economics student; former EUSA trustee; Outreach Director for Edinburgh University North American Society

Vote count: 2232 votes

Competitor: Theo Robertson-Bonds (1493 votes)

You had a pretty decisive win.  Were you expecting that?

Oh man, no – I had no idea. We knew we had a very different strategy from I think what a lot of people have done in the past. We recognised it’s 2016, you gotta hit social media hard.  We tried to rally people who have not been touched – I mean Kings is, you look at the voting stats: they never vote.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 17.57.17So you got a sense when you reached out to the other campuses that the voters hadn’t been approached by anybody?

I know they hadn’t.  For years they’ve been marginalised.  And that’s just not what we’re about – we’re a community here.

Were there any moments of doubt during the campaigning period; did you change direction at any point?

Oh we changed directions every single day. We knew we had one guiding principle, and that was community.  And we had one heck of a team. I mean I’ve said it to everyone that’s got a quote from me: this has nothing to do with me. This is 100 per cent that team out there. If you publish anything, publish that.

Was there anything in particular you adapted – did you find certain things were working better than others?

Sure. We knew that the videos were getting a good response, so we did more of them. Plus, that’s fun. I mean the whole thing was we were gonna have a good time – win or lose, we’re gonna spread community. That was the whole thing.

Which policies are you most excited to implement?

I think honestly transportation is a burning thing. And you know, who knows how long that’ll take, but I hope by January next year, we’ll have at least two more bus links.

Which policy do you think is going to be the hardest, looking ahead?

I think there’s always going to be pushback on things like exam dates moved earlier. What I would like to see if we continue to move the ball forward. We get a week – if we get an extra week I’m happy.  Because the team after can get another week, and the team after can get another week. It takes time.

Are you happy with the sabbatical team overall?

Yeah, absolutely: I’m pumped. I’m pumped. And I wanna say one more time – you guys asked me this before but I’ll say it again: the sabbatical team this year has left us in such a good position. People will look back ten years from now at this referendum and be like: “Wow, they changed something.” This is a huge step. This changes the game completely.

So yeah, we’re in a good position, and the team is really good.

Vice President Societies and Activities-elect: Jessica Husbands

BackgroundFourth-year French and Spanish student; active member of the Edinburgh University Hare and Hounds running club and the Edinburgh University Wind Band

Vote count: 1224 votes

Competitor: Madeleine Payne (1035 votes)

Your race was pretty close. Was that something you were anticipating?

Yes, because I feel like Maddie was a lot more involved in the Edinburgh Left and FemSoc, and lots of the society things. And also our policies are pretty similar. I don’t know if that [made a difference].

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 17.57.36Knowing your opponent’s involvement in these societies ahead of campaigning, did you do anything to adjust your campaign strategy to take that into account?

Not really. I just took – Andy and Urte made this really good advice sort of thing which they gave to all the candidates that was literally “just talk to as many people as you can.”

So was that the cornerstone of the plan?

Well yeah, and just, cause I’m not really involved in that kind of politic-y things. So everything that I did was just on their suggestions. And because I was away last year I wasn’t there for the campaign, so I didn’t know what past strategies had been so much.

Which aspect of your manifesto do you think spoke to voters the most?

The four things that I said to people. They all responded to one of the four things. So mid-week Big Cheese was first and second years – they really liked that. And that was suggested by a EUSA member of staff so when people go “oh is it feasible” I am like “yes”.  And it’s happened before, we just need to work a way to exercise it better so it’s popular. The kitchen facilities in study spaces, people responded to that, and the 24 hour library, because it’s something that other universities have. And the rent cap thing – even once I said – I was always very clear to say that it’s fighting for a rent cap – it’s a very long term issue, but I think it’s something we should take a stand on.

Did you ever have doubts with how things were going on the campaign trail?

Yeah, definitely. I didn’t always think I was going to win. But I was like “I’m not going to give up now, I’m four days into the week.” It was just a case of struggling on, trying to get my voice back.

What part of your manifesto are you most excited to implement?

Well I’m really inspired by what Urte has been doing, cause she’s worked with some really big issues, like with conflict minerals – we’re the first university in the country to have a policy on conflict minerals. So looking at that, I’m really excited. The rent cap thing: I’m not expecting it to be successful but I was very transparent about why I was campaigning. I’m not expecting to get a rent cap or get rent regulations in the year that I’m in. But it’s something I’m really excited to work towards and make a difference just by talking about it for a year.

And to be honest, mid-week Big Cheese would be great. But if people don’t want to go to Big Cheese, great; they don’t have to. If people do want to go, great.

Are there any other manifesto points you think are going to be particularly hard to implement?

The kitchen facilities in study spaces: that’s a very – when I was writing my manifesto I was trying to be really concrete in the things I was saying. So getting kitchen facilities in study spaces, you get a kettle, it’s there: click, done. Or things like improving collaboration between societies and EUSA. That’s not like a concrete thing; it’s just going to be working towards. So that’s something that even if I work really hard for, I can still be criticised at the end of the year saying I haven’t done enough, and that’s what I’m concerned about. But I just want to carry on trying.

What do you think about the future sabbatical team?

Excellent.  I’m really excited.

Vice President Services-elect: Jenna Kelly

BackgroundFourth-year French student; top 20 finalist in Edinburgh Apprentice 2014, organiser for Edinburgh Apprentice 2015

Vote count: 1024 votes

Competitor: Hannah Baker-Millington (788 votes)

Were you expecting to win by the margin that you did?

I was quite worried, but all of today I think I really wasn’t expecting to win.  That’s why I cried, which I’m very very embarrassed about. [Laughs] But I really wasn’t expecting it. Hannah ran a really great campaign, and obviously she ran last year and had so many more skills in planning her campaign strategy and it was just very unexpected.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 17.57.43Did you approach campaigning any differently given the experience of your opponent?

No I actually didn’t know this going in. I made quite a conscious effort not to look up how many people I was up against, who I was up against, because I really wanted to focus on my own campaign. But, you know, people told me stuff along the way. I met Hannah at the debate, and that was kind of it.

But I think everything was really amicable, even with all positions the whole way through.

What do you think were some of the elements in terms of strategy that gave you the victory?

My campaign team were fabulous. Really wonderful. Everyone’s in fourth-year: it’s such a busy time, and my strategy was to get as many people on board doing little small things for me, because I couldn’t have asked a few people to commit my time for me. And everyone really pulled it up by even messaging people and saying “my friend’s running”, or that kind of thing.

And I also think that the way I constructed my manifesto, I really drove home the fact that this job was about representing students, and nothing on that was my idea. And that’s what the job is about. It’s about representing students and what they want. I’m hoping that that’s what everyone who voted for me saw, that that’s all I want to do.

You were notable for having a long list of manifesto points. Do you think that helped?

I don’t know if I think that’s an effective thing. I didn’t realise until after, and everyone was like “you’ve got a lot of points on your manifesto” and I thought, yeah, I guess that actually is the condensed version.

Did you notice which particular ones were standing out in terms of getting through to people?

Yeah, it’s always been the health kind of things. Especially to do with CSE [Centre for Sport and Exercise]: a lot of sports clubs came to me and said they feel detached and they feel part of EUSA, and I wanted to work on that. So whilst everything is important, all of the health policies were definitely at the top.

Which policy are you most excited about?

I’m really super excited about having a soup salad and juice bar in Potterrow Dome. There’s nothing really in EUSA venues. And that was the biggest response I got from out campaigning, talking to people, flyering. And when you say that, or when you talk to them about their manifesto, that’s the one that sparks the most interest.

Which do think will be the hardest to implement?

I mean there’s been an ongoing thing that my manifesto is quite front-heavy and ambitious expenses-wise. Free taxis has been one that’s been questioned a lot. My point about this is that so many of the top unions in the UK do it, and people instantly turn to say EUSA won’t. But that shouldn’t be the way it works. But I think it will, because of the way things have worked for the past year, I think it’ll be hardest to get the uni on board with, but I think really we should.

How are you going to prioritise though? Because obviously you only have limited time.

Someone asked me earlier what I’m going to do in preparation. I’m gonna look at – so what I’ve condensed my manifesto down to – I’m gonna look at what students want the most out of. So this whole manifesto is what students want. But there’s a time constraint, budget constraints, and I’m gonna find out between what’s most feasible and what students want the most. And that’s what I want to do. Because I don’t think there’s any point doing something that students aren’t going to be that happy about, because our student satisfaction is notoriously not that great.

What would you say to criticism that that is sort of like giving a wishlist for election and then choosing when you get into office?

No I don’t think – before you go in you have no idea – you know, I’ve worked for EUSA and so I know that every time someone runs and they get in, and they’re like “oh gosh”, they didn’t know where the money was coming from. I think I’m at an advantage because of that, because I know the internal workings of it. I think that I’’m one step ahead, and I think that showing the uni that this is what students want will be able to get money on board.

But yeah, people might criticise it, but I never promised to do every single one of them, but I hope that I can.

What do you think about the newly elected sabbatical team?

I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s a really great team. Everyone’s got really refreshing ideas, and everyone obviously cares about representing students and doing what students want, and I think that’s really refreshing and wonderful.

And we can hopefully capitalise on what the sabbs this year have done, because I think they started the ball rolling with getting a new stream of thought into and positive thinking towards EUSA. So I’m excited.

Vice President Academic Affairs-elect: Patrick Garratt

BackgroundFourth-year history student; former Editor in Chief of The Student; previously Comment editor

Vote count: 1383 votes

Competitors: Harriet Protheroe-Davis (681 votes); Nataliya Bondareva (487 votes)

Your victory was fairly decisive. Were you expecting that?

No not at all, I thought it would be much closer. It was a massive surprise to have seen a margin that size.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 17.57.52Running in the only three-person race, what were you thinking in terms of an outcome?

I personally thought that if it was to be won, it would be won on second preferences. But the second preferences didn’t end up being as decisive as I and my friends thought it was going to be. I did not expect to get such a decisive first preference victory. That was a huge surprise.

Given that it was three candidates, with second preferences, a chance of vote splitting, and each candidate having to distinguish themselves more, did you do anything in terms of campaigning to adjust to that?

No, not necessarily. To be fair, in all three of the manifestos between me, Talia and Harriet, there was actually quite a lot of overlap. They weren’t as distinct from each other as I think manifestos have been in previous years. I think you also have to remember that a lot of people who vote don’t use the preference system. They just don’t. So the way we approached the campaign was, we just have to get all the first preferences that we can. There was no thinking tactically about it.

So in terms of your approach, what do you think were the key tactics for your campaign that helped deliver the win?

The ultimate key tactic was total positive campaigning. Whether that be on social media or whether that be in person, when you’re flyering, it was to be completely positive. If we heard any bad comments made on social media against myself, we did not engage with it, because students are less likely to get engaged in a student election if they think it’s prone to petty politics. Nobody cares. And it actually dissuades people.

There were a few other things. Always having people on the ground flyering. It doesn’t necessarily matter if they’re actually giving a flyer to people, but you have to have good coverage. It’s ultimately a visual thing. Whether or not you have colourful posters, you have to get your face across. Because remember: people vote very distinctively and they vote very quickly. It takes 20 to 30 seconds. You just have to get your name out there.

I think one thing we did very very well was a social media campaign. We nailed that. We had a huge reach for a VPAA race on Facebook. We got people to share it at certain times. We staggered certain posts. There was a whole host of different things that we did that made sure that we were very visual on social media. And I think also the way we did the campaign was based purely on the policies. Policies that are feasible, are realistic, that were comprehensively explained to people as well, so that they can latch onto them. There was nothing vague about the campaign at all. It was very specific.

You had 220 of Nataliya’s second preference votes go to you in the second round, which put you above quota. You and Nataliya also reportedly spent the last day campaigning in tandem with each other. Do you think that gave you an edge?

[It was the] manifestos; I don’t think it was the last day. Because most people had voted by the last day. It had to do with overlapping manifestos. The biggest surge in voting is the penultimate night and the last day. But when we were doing the lecture shoutouts together it was in the afternoon, so by that point it was just like you may as well put yourself out there.

What specific policies of yours do you think translated most successfully to voters?

I think the year abroad policy supporting year abroad students translated the best. One of the main policies I want to do will be about improving the class reps system. But that isn’t easily articulated during lecture shoutouts. Nor is it during flyering. So we didn’t use that a lot. We had that explained in the manifesto and the video, but we didn’t use it cause it’s not quick.

The policies I mentioned to people were mainly two or three I’d say. One: recorded lectures, when you don’t have to have them visually recorded. You can have audio recordings – that’s cheap – and plenty of universities do that. People realise actually that’s a very feasible thing to do. Rather than saying you’re going to video record all lectures at a certain time, you say you can get a high quality dictaphone. It immediately becomes very realistic.

Second, the year abroad thing really resonated with people. Because there’s a very broad understanding and resonance about how the university fails to support year abroad students. I personally have loads of friends that go abroad who hated it. I think the idea to help out year abroad students just seemed vital because the University’s obsessed with study abroad, but just abandon them. I think the year abroad issue resonated most with students.

Did you have any crises of confidence on the campaign trail?

We were very confident on the social media front. I think we used it as well as we possibly could. I worried a bit that we weren’t doing as much flyering as people. But I stand by that flyering is actually not that much of a useful tactic. There wasn’t one point in the campaign we thought were behind or ahead. It was mainly just in terms of the week.

What do you think about the current sabbatical team?

I don’t really know them too well, but they’ve all of them run very good and positive campaigns, and they deserve – as do all candidates – the credit for actually getting elected. They all seem very excited and actually passionate to do the role.

And remember, anybody who puts themselves up for this and is willing to be subject to criticism and account to students for a whole year, must have a fairly good idea of what they’re going to do. So I’m excited.

By Ethan DeWitt


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