The Student meets Alfie Garland

This interview forms part of a series of interviews that The Student will conduct with presidential nominees in the run up to the Edinburgh University Students’ Association elections that will begin on Monday 8 March. Alfie Garland is currently an Archaeology Ambassador within the School of History, Classics and Ancient Civilisations. He is also a security guard, having worked at Big Cheese, among other student events.

48 hours after launching his campaign, and approximately 48 hours before voting opens, Alfie Garland admitted his campaign had a “tough time” running against an incumbent in the midst of a pandemic. However, he remained upbeat about his prospects, having chosen to run an “organic campaign” without the usual “flooding of social media”. 

“There’s a good sense of spirit among the candidates, a positive unifying force even though we’re campaigning against one another” said Garland, speaking virtually to The Student. 

“My policies can’t be enacted on their own, but as president I will 100 per cent push on holding the university to account for existing promises made, as people deserve a living wage and a safer campus, as rewards for their investments in the university.”

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These pledges, to pay all employees of the Students’ Association a living wage, and improve campus security in the wake of recent hate crimes against ethnic minority students, are among his many ambitions. 

Slimming down the Students’ Association’s bureaucracy, and increasing transparency are also amongst his priorities. Publication of budget reports, he said, would be a good start, as students do “not always know what’s happening” within their Students Association.

“There has been a gradual shift in recent years where the Students Association has become quite closely aligned with the university” said Garland. 

“We have to work together but we need a greater emphasis on being a union for students, the Students’ Association lacks certain bite”. 

Garland went on to highlight how the university’s supposed hybrid model of learning has largely not been upheld. 

The Students’ Association’s tepid response demonstrates a “lack of interface between the Students’ Association and the University of Edinburgh”. As a president elected to “serve the people”, Garland pledged to “go into meetings and raise concerns” with the university executive.

As president, Garland would be the sole student representative on the university’s 26-member executive, limiting his ability to implement policy without the approval of various vice principals and school heads. 

But Garland said he would still “take his policies to the executive” likening the opposition he could face, to the struggle that progressives in America currently face as they seek to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“As a student ambassador, I have the experience of representing and promoting student voices and engaging with departments. Also, as a bouncer at Big Cheese, I believe there is a certain overlap of skills”. 

When asked specifically, what transferable skills he could apply to the Students’ Association presidency, Garland chuckled that he could “maybe make use of my assertive nature”.

Nevertheless, less than one in five students voted last year, and Garland admitted “it’s easy to be disillusioned” by student politics.

“There needs to be a holistic inclusion of elections within the student calendar, integrated within school calendars, rather than just social events” Garland said,  pointing out that turnout amongst the schools of politics and history is likely to be higher than in less social science oriented courses. 

But Garland was hopeful that turnout this year may be higher. 

”Covid and the lack of campus teaching means more people are likely to seek university participation, to remain engaged in the university in some form”. 

Voting in the Edinburgh University Students’ Association elections will be open to students from Monday 8 March until Thursday 11 March.

Image: Alfie Garland

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief, May-September 2022
Former Deputy EiC & Opinion Editor