Credit: Stirling Student Union
The Union Elections are almost upon us, and that only means one thing.
No, not the day that is spent dodging desperate candidates outside the library who are flashing sheets of brightly coloured paper in your face.
I am, of course, talking about the Rumble in the Atrium, the Biggest Fight Night on Earth, the almost never controversial Hustings.
The format is simple, the candidates talk for a bit, are asked questions that were written by the election committee, then are subjected to questioning from all us normal students.
Here, we will give you a rundown of what happened, controversy and all, and then we’ll give you who we think won.
The question master duties were played by the Stef Black and Lauren Kirk, as they interrogated the candidates about what they’ve said and what they’ve promised in their manifesto.
The first category up was VP Education, and Natalie Smith and Matt Adie stepped up to the plate.
Natalie Smith was first to take the stage. In her opening statement, she laid out her manifesto points, focussing on inclusivity and accessibility as well as hidden course costs and supporting survivors of sexual violence.
She began very confidently and comfortably at the beginning, but as time wore on she did get a little jittery, tripping over her words in a few instances, but managed to recover well.
Smith pushed home her desire to integrate more of the INTO students into university life, the programme which helps support international students moving to go to university in the UK, the US and China.
She also talked about the fact that the university needs to prioritise study space over other things, because the university is an institution of learning.
As the questions were opened to the floor, one member of the audience asked if Smith’s manifesto was a copy of Matt Adie’s from his 2016 campaign. She coped well with what was a difficult question, and after the initial surprise of being asked she said that the two candidates approach issues in different ways.
Matt Adie took to the podium next, attempting to show the masses why he should be kept on as the VP Education. He started by stating that he wished to build on this year’s successes on car parking, study space and timetabling, as well as now adding graduation costs, following on from the work done by Jess Logan this year.
Adie’s confidence in public speaking came across – he was able to get his points across well to the audience and handle the questions that were put to him.
When asked about the situation surrounding car parking, Adie said that progress had been made, and that through “pinching and pulling” there was an extra 36 spaces, and expected there to be more by the end of May. He also pointed at the rebate system for students who paid for parking when they were not at uni.
When asked about if graduation costs falls in the remit of VP Education, Adie said that it should be a priority for the whole Union, and that the bank balance of a student shouldn’t be allowed to determine their ability to celebrate their graduation.
Adie was not subject to any particularly tough questions, however he was asked about if the INTO students are represented within the Union. He replied by saying that there was not enough Union representation for INTO students, and that they have been somewhat ignored by the Union. Adie stated that they should be helped to integrate both socially and academically.
“Verdict: A very, VERY slim victory for Matt Adie, based on his public speaking abilities. When Natalie Smith gets more experience in campaigning, there’s nothing to say that she won’t be just as good.”
Séarlas Mac Thoirdealbhaigh was incredibly passionate right from the off. He was so hyped that he spoke at an alarmingly fast rate. He told me after that he thought he had three minutes for his opening speech, when it was only one minute that he was given.
Séarlas used his opener to say that he wanted to speak to students as a friend. He continued through his main points, his support for a referendum on allying with other trade unions, his support for helping those who cannot pay their rent, and ensuring that the University is safe for students.
Séarlas also used his platform to criticise his opponent Astrid Smallenbroek, saying that he will not promise another counsellor when he is not sure if it will happen and that he will not pretend that he runs First Bus, a reference to Astrid’s plan to lobby the bus company to provide more routes on a timely manner.
Séarlas also stated that it was “this type of politics that gave us Brexit and Trump”.
In terms of rent, he said that he supported the work done by the past two Union Presidents, and that he wanted to build on it. He asserted that the trade union alliance that he is proposing in his referendum would strengthen the stance that the Union could take.
Stef Black asked if Séarlas’ proposal to support those who protest against Donald Trump rails against those who have different political views that him.
He handled it well, saying that Trump stands for xenophobia and inequality, everything that students oppose. He also went into the cross party initiative that he wants to see when it comes to demonstrating.
Then, Astrid Smallenbroek took to the stage. She took an altogether more calm approach, not as fiery as Séarlas, but still effective. Instead of discussing her manifesto, Astrid talked about why she wanted to be Union President in her opening salvo, as well as stating that she wanted to remove barriers from University.
On the issue of rent, Astrid said that she wanted to build the Accommodation Enhancement Fund, as well as increase the advertisement of the fund to make sure that the people who need to apply are aware that there is support available. She also said that a rent freeze was doable on the older accommodations.
When asked about engagement, Astrid stated that she wants to make clear to people what the Union does, and for it to be much more visible as an entity.
When she was asked about the issue of hiring another counsellor, and the cost implications that this would bring, Astrid remained stoic. She said that it was achievable, and that money could be taken from the university’s marketing budget.
Her logic was that the university would look better, and present a better environment for students, which would then endear more prospective students toward the university and would act as a marketing tool.
“Verdict: Both candidates looked good, but for different reasons. Séarlas showed his passion, and given the election of Dave Keenan last year, this could take him far. Whereas Astrid showed that she remains very calm under pressure, but also doesn’t mind arguing her point. Picking a winner would do a great disservice to the other candidate, so I won’t name one.”
Alasdair Ibbotson was first to step up to in this contest. He used his first statement to inform the audience that he was suffering from a stomach bug (something which I can attest to, because my later interview with Alasdair took place on a rather romantic walk around the loch). He not only referred to his inability to hold his breakfast, but talked about his desire to start a tenants’ union in Stirling. He stated that if members stand in solidarity against bad landlords, then they can drag up the quality of all flats in Stirling.
Despite his illness, Alasdair represented himself very well. He was well spoken, and knew a great deal about the issues he was discussing.
When asked about Student Services, Alasdair recounted how he was told by one of the counsellors that he had to “get over” his diagnosis of depression. He responded extensively about Student Support being understaffed, and the need for it to improve.
One of the more questionable things that Alasdair said was when he was asked about the acts that he would support to play the next Freshers’ Week and suggested Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler.
When discussing the inclusion of INTO students in university life, Alasdair took a different line to his fellow candidates, stating that INTO is a for-profit company that has a contract with the university and exploits the students that it is supposed to be helping. He said that students should be given security before the issue of inclusion is tackled.
Jamie Grant was next to assume the position (not like that). The PolSoc president started by paying tribute to Scott Mackay, a VP Communities candidate who dropped out of the race the night before Hustings.
A confident speaker, Grant used his hands like Bill Clinton, and spoke with a very statesman-like cadence.
Grant spoke of his experience as Communities Officer, as well as his knowledge of Union politics, and spoke of his desire to pass on these opportunities to other students.
When asked about decreasing the number of people it takes to form a society, Grant was the only one who was against it. He stated that opening up the Union to having more societies means that the budget may stretch too thin if there are more clubs to fund.
The questions turned to how the Union budget was spent, and Grant took umbrage with the claim that the budget is poorly spent. Stating that the Union is sometimes done a disservice in terms of how the money is spent, he insisted that it manages to do a lot with what it has.
He did however concede that the budget could be better spent, but a good job is already being done.
When discussing the integration of INTO students, Grant stated that they struggle to adapt to a new culture and language, and said that clubs and societies may be the best way to help this, saying that it is easier to integrate within a more informal context.
It was then time for Air3 Radio’s humble station manager James Fitzsimons. James began his pitch for electoral victory by laying out his desire to boost career opportunities for people in clubs and societies, focussing on mental health, increasing engagement and ensuring that the entire university was a safe space.
In his opener and throughout, James comes across as personable and friendly, two characteristics whose importance cannot be understated in the role of VP Comms. He also tries to keep the audience laughing whenever he speaks, using often self-deprecating humour.
In terms of his plan to increase the job opportunities stemming from clubs and societies, Fitzsimons said that he will help to foster links between societies and their associated industries. One example that he always uses is the Craft Beer Society, because apparently Northern Irish stereotypes ring true.
He mentioned that he felt he would be dropped in the deep end after uni, but said that if career opportunities were available, then people would be able to use their opportunities to build a boat, and then subsequently fly. He actually said those words.
When asked what they think of decreasing the number of members needed to form a society, James was the first of the candidates to step up. This is one of his manifesto promises, stating that he wants to reduce the number from 9 to between five and seven. James says that his reasons for this is that people have very specific, niche interests, and they should not have to hunt for people who share their interests in order to create a society.
When asked light heartedly which acts he would like to book for Freshers’, James got the completely wrong end of the stick, and by the end of the diatribe, James had said he would book himself for Freshers’. He did however redeem himself by saying that he would book the Foo Fighters. I think it’s safe to say that we hadn’t seen the Best of James yet. If you get that you deserve the chuckle you inevitably had.
“Again, it’s difficult to choose from any of these candidates. Jamie has some very well thought-out policies, and is very amiable. Alasdair may have a focus on something other than what’s typically seen as the remit of VP Comms, but he knows the ins and outs of his proposals and has definitely done his homework. James has equally well thought-out plans, and has the personality to carry them off. For this, I would say that it’s a very slim victory for James Fitzsimons.
Alex Duke was the first to take the reins of the Sports Union lectern. He opened by discussing the redevelopment of facilities. Duke stated that if there was one sports club who were not satisfied with the plans, then he would not give his blessing to the university. He also said that the Sports Union’s blessing is necessary for the plans to go ahead.
Duke was comfortable speaking in front of the crowd, as he towers over the lectern.
He was the first to speak when a question about the rift between the Union and the Sports Union was asked. He stated that the Sports President would have to work with other sabbatical officers to make sure that the gap between the two Unions does not widen.
He also pointed to Matt Adie’s statement about the need to free up Wednesday afternoons to allow more students to be able to play sport.
When questioned over the funding for coaching in the Sports Union, Duke said that there was a cut to the budget a few years ago, and that there was unlikely to be an increase, so he points to funding for members of societies to instead be sent on coaching courses.
Lindsay MacDonald was next to take her place at the podium. She opened by laying out her experience, saying that she has been part of two different sports teams, as well as her experiences on the Sports Union Executive Committee. Lindsay outlined how important the social side of sports is, and said that she wants to make the Union more inclusive.
Unfortunately, Lindsay struggled for much of the Hustings. Her nerves appeared to get the better of her, as she stumbled over her own words and never gave any particularly certain answers to questions.
While discussing the facilities redevelopment, she said that students need their say, and points to her approachability as key in getting students’ voices heard.
When asked about the fact that their manifestos do not mention a “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind” style campaign, Lindsay stated that there is a small number of people that are active at the university, and said that she would promote current campaigns like the 5k a Day.
Women’s football captain Rebecca Blair was next to enter the Thunderdome. She stated that she would stand as a leading voice for students within the Sports Union, and pledged to maintain the university’s reputation of sporting excellence. She also explained how she knew what it felt like to be part of both a small and large club, due to the growth that the women’s football team has undergone in recent years.
Rebecca was the overall surprise of the Hustings for me. In her taped interview she seemed nervous, although it didn’t have too much of an effect on her getting her points across, especially when she settled in. I thought that she may have had trouble in front of a crowd, but I could not have been more wrong. Rebecca was strong, charismatic, and got her points across incredibly well.
On the redevelopment, Rebecca was straight to the point. She said that the voices of students were the ones that matter, and that opinion had to be made clear to the people that matter. She also stated that any redevelopment had to serve a purpose, and not only look good.
Rebecca also detailed her Opportunity for All campaign, which she hoped will bring more people into the Sports Union. She said that focus needs to be shifted away from simply success in sport, in order to allow more people to get involved. She would also institute more Give it a Go events to give people an opportune time to begin taking part in sports.
Towards the end of Hustings, Rebecca was given a question about what she’d said last week when I asked her about lad culture in the Sports Union. She wasn’t ready for this question, but given that, she answered well. Stating that “I don’t think you’ll ever be able to fully combat lad culture” but she continued on by saying that procedures need to be in place to “stamp it out” if anything does happen. The question to Rebecca made it seem as though she was condoning, supporting or allowing lad culture, and that’s simply not true. Rebecca was fierce in her defence of what she said.
Craig Bathgate, of Triathlon, was the last of the Sports Union candidates to step forward. He started by stating that he had been part of both individual and team sports. He then went on to list his three main points; Development, Inclusivity and Opportunity.
Craig had a very natural way in his speaking, he seemed particularly serious, but knew a great deal about the topics he was discussing.
Bathgate was generally supportive of the redevelopment plans, but also stated that more has to be done to support the clubs in other way. He pointed out the volleyball club especially, stating that they only have one half court net, meaning that the rest of the space in the sports hall is being wasted.
When discussing the rift between the Sports Union and the Union, Bathgate stated that there should be more outreach to Union societies, and emphasised that the Sports Union should do more for mental health and inclusivity.
He also pointed out the Sports Union’s role in making the student experience as good as possible.
“Verdict: Again, it’s difficult to pick a winner in this, but I believe that Rebecca Blair and Craig Bathgate ran it pretty close, both delivered with passion and with conviction. Alex Duke didn’t stick out as much for me and Lindsay, unfortunately, had a bad day at the office.”
So that ends our coverage of Hustings. No major knockouts, not even a few scrapes. What a disappointment.
Alternative Hustings are set to take place on 9 March at 6pm in Venue, where there will be alcohol and probably more intrigue and danger.
Voting opens on Monday, March 13, at 9am and closes at 6.15pm on Tuesday, March 14. So you should vote, or Donald Trump will ban you from the United States.