It was the ninth of March. The room was warm. The beers were cold. Students across the Central Belt felt the hairs on their arms stand up. They all knew this day was coming: it was time once again for the Union Elections Alternative Hustings.
If you couldn’t make it to the alt-hustings, there’s no need to worry. Everything’s going to be all right. Seriously, stop crying. Brig‘s got your back. We’re here to take you through every word of every monotonous opening speech, every sip from every pint of Tennent’s, every awkwardly personal question from a member of the audience.
I should point out nice and early – this was my very first alt-hustings, and it had been massively built up for me. I expected someone to break a glass and give a candidate a Glasgow smile by the end of the night. At the very least, I thought I might get to hear an accidental, eye-wateringly racist slip of the tongue from one of the potential presidents. I left disappointed. If you’re reading in anticipation of something like that, I’m sorry.
It was a night fairly free of controversy. While not as dull as Tuesday’s ‘normie’ hustings reportedly were, I didn’t get any of the Mad Max-style chaos I was promised. The candidates managed to keep their composure annoyingly well, and many of them even made quite sensible and well thought-out points.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t completely pointless. Put a bunch of electoral candidates in a room with the people who will be choosing between them, add plenty of alcohol, and something fun is bound to happen. And some things did.
Act One: Your candidates for Vice President Communities
Here’s your basic template for the alt-hustings. First, the candidates give their short opening remarks, kept to a time limit. This is followed by questioning from Conor Fitzpatrick and Joe Tarbuck from the Politics Society, who hosted the evening. The candidates then play ‘green or red’, where they hold up the coloured piece of paper that corresponds to their answer to a dichotomous question. Then the floor is opened up, and the crowd can ask questions.
If that sounds complicated, I promise it’ll make sense later on.
I arrived a few minutes late to the hustings, meaning I missed Jamie Grant‘s opening remarks. Knowing him as a candidate, I presume that he imparted the main points of his manifesto articulately and matter-of-factly. Who knows.
Between Jamie and rival James Fitzsimons, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find someone who’d be massively disappointed if either of them got in (with the obvious exception of fellow rival Alasdair Ibbotson). Speaking incredibly broadly, Jamie tends to win in terms of policy, whereas James edges it in personality, but that summary betrays the fact that both James and Jamie have buckets of both.
A fairly ill Alasdair, wearing his trademark hat, could easily have struggled to make an impression beside his two opponents, but the room was stunned by the sheer amount of homework he seemed to have done. He repeatedly referenced particular acts of parliament to support his arguments, even referring to specific sections.
During the floor’s questions, he was one of two people on the night who was asked whether he was really approachable enough for his position. This question always seems unnecessarily harsh, no matter who it’s being asked to, but Alasdair perhaps didn’t help himself by answering: “This isn’t a personality contest.” I’m afraid it is, a bit.
There was a pleasant moment when Scott Mackay, the erstwhile VP Comms candidate whose picture sat on the desk as a symbol of what wasn’t to be, came up on stage to ask the candidates a question each.
Jamie was asked about his views on the NUS, as he was involved in a campaign to leave it last year. He answered that new experiences changed his views, and he is now pro-NUS.
James was asked whether he would favour media societies over the rest, due to his attachment to Air3. Scott got a fairly simple answer: of course not.
Finally, he asked Alasdair about a motion he once tabled against the Greek Systems society, saying his approach at that time had “panicked” some people. Alasdair replied that he remembered the event differently and had followed Union procedure.
Verdict: James and Jamie were the standout candidates for me, despite Alasdair’s vast knowledge of his area of concern. While the gap between them is wildly small, Jamie seemed more in control on stage, and since Craig Paton awarded Tuesday’s hustings to James, I feel comfortable awarding this round to Jamie Grant.
Act Two: Your candidates for VP Education
If you’ve been following the Union elections at all, you’ll know that there are two candidates for VP Education: the incumbent Matt Adie, and his challenger Natalie Smith.
The current narrative is that Matt is likely to win, since he has been a pretty popular VP Education over the past year – he’s the one that ensured mandatory recording of lectures for Listen Again; a proposal that was accepted by the university yesterday.
Natalie has impressed many people during her campaign, though, despite seemingly running against the wind. At the alt-hustings, she argued very well in favour of her proposals to support survivors of sexual violence at the university.
When asked about her proposal to eliminate hidden course costs like field trips, she suggests creating a deposits system where students can begin adding money to a fourth year field trip fund as early as first year.
She didn’t get much of a chance to talk more about her manifesto during the floor’s questions, though, as each subsequent questioner only had something to ask Matt.
He was asked repeated questions about his treatment of INTO students during his tenure as VP Education, leading him to argue that progress was being made on that front. This exchange led to one of the more exciting parts of the night, when an absolutely livid young man stood up in the crowd, pointed at Matt and shouted “Shame on you!” before picking up his bags and storming out.
In the cool-down from that event, Brig‘s very own Warren Hardie went on stage to ask a question about Matt’s crossing of a picket line at a UCU protest. Matt handled it well, saying that he had an engagement with a student, and he had to choose between support for the UCU and supporting that student. He chose the student, and he still supports the UCU.
Verdict: both candidates suffered a little from the fact that they had to follow the three charismatic candidates for VP Comms; this debate felt like a bit of a deflation in comparison. Matt was able to work with the advantage that most questions were directed to him, but I’m giving this round to Natalie for her eloquent explanations of popular ideas.
Since we were now halfway through proceedings, the show paused for five minutes to allow everyone to get a little more drunk.
Act Three: Your candidates for Union President
This really should have been the climax of the night, but one of the candidates had to leave early for work, and so it was brought forward to second-last.
The candidates for president are Séarlas Mac Thoirdealbhaigh and Astrid Smallenbroek (you’re going to have to learn to spell one of them).
Séarlas gets a fiery excitement in his voice when he talks about the policies he’s passionate about, a condition that often causes him to talk so quickly his Northern Irish accent becomes close to impenetrable.
His big plan for the year is a referendum on whether the Union should enter into a campaign alliance with the trade unions that represent the university’s staff, and this was what he spent most of his time discussing. His proposal for a new children’s playpark on campus also came up a surprising amount. He defended it well, by explaining that it is worth the effort for students who have children.
As in the previous hustings, Astrid represented a less fiery approach, but her supporters didn’t seem to be any less pumped up.
She was asked during the inital questioning whether she was favouring international students over Scottish and British ones. She answered that Brexit rhetoric was an issue to many international students, and extra effort should be made to show them that they are welcome to Stirling.
It was Séarlas who was on the receiving end of the night’s second approachability question from the floor. Again, it seemed unnecessarily harsh, as he was criticised for not maintaining eye contact with questioners and occasionally laughing to friends in the audience.
He handled it perfectly, apologising if his instinct to laugh made some people uncomfortable and opening up about anxiety issues that might be the cause of his problems with eye contact. It was a nice moment of honesty that got the crowd on his side.
The issues with First Buses came up during the questions, with both candidates being asked about their strategies. Séarlas discussed his plan to approach First Buses directly and convince them using a business perspective. Astrid defended her plan to talk to the council instead, saying they would take a structured, well thought-out approach seriously.
Verdict: Both candidates came across as perfectly capable of the role, with sensible ideas which they easily defended. However, I think Séarlas made the biggest impression on the night, and so I’m giving this round to him.
Act Four: Your candidates for Sports President
There seemed to be a slight lack of passion or humour among the potential Sports Presidents on the night; none of them looked particularly happy to be there, and they didn’t speak with the enthusiasm that made Jess Morris a standout candidate. Hopefully it was just a blip.
A questioner from the floor asked about sports team cliques, and how they would combat a culture that might alienate people who want to take part.
Rebecca emphasised the importance of ‘give it a go’ sessions, and said that teams should be given more powers to hold events such as those that bring people in. Craig agreed with her, adding that the 5k event and last month’s Big Wednesday also help. Lindsay told the audience that she believed there “should not be barriers to taking part in any sports team”.
They then responded to another question on something that may serve as a barrier for some people to join a sports team: the cost of kit. Alex spoke of his belief that the cost of membership was definitely going to rise due to the new £17 million development on campus, and his wish to lower other prices to help students cope. The rest of the candidates agreed that it needed to be looked at, but it would take time.
Verdict: With a slight lack of enthusiasm from the candidates, picking a winner is mainly a matter of looking at who demonstrated their policies the best. For that, I’m going to award this round to Craig Bathgate of the triathlon team.
So, by ten past eight it was all over, and the assembled masses had to move to make way for a meeting of RockSoc. The night was a little dry at times, but I have no doubt that many people will have chosen their votes based on what they saw.
Please remember to vote at some point between 9am on March 13 and 6.15pm on March 14. It’s coming up soon, so write it on the back of your hand or something. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the Russians don’t manage to fiddle with this one.
Featured image credit: Stuart Graham