Low turnout is cause for concern over Union mandate

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Photo: Stuart Graham

Students are a bunch of tough nuts to crack, which is especially the case for Stirling University when it comes time to vote in the Union Election.

As we reflect upon an interesting and lively campaign period, filled with fanciful manifesto pledges and shooting star memes, it’s clear that students just simply didn’t care. With turnout close to rock bottom, it’s time to start asking the question; does the Students’ Union even have a mandate?

Once again the candidates failed to convince the vast majority of students to vote. Only 2095 of 11935 students voted for the nine positions up for grabs. This shockingly low number is only surpassed by the vast quantity of positions in which only one person stood. A grand total of five individuals were elected in these conditions.

Let’s address the utter sham that is an uncontested position – unbelievably, over 50% of all positions only had one candidate. Is this seriously the best Stirling University can muster? A single candidate that only needs a rubber stamp to ascend to the Students’ Union? This is bad for democracy and bad for the university.

Competition weeds out weaker candidates, and strong candidates shine, with no opposition in these positions the views and opinions of these candidates are not being tested. Why would they be? It would be next to impossible for them not to get elected.

I’ll grant you, it’s great to see R.O.N (Re-open Nominations) on the ballot; you should only vote for R.O.N “if you feel that the candidates you have not yet listed are not suitable for that position,” according to the Union website. It goes on to state: “Voting for R.O.N is an active vote AGAINST the remaining candidates.”

I disagree in the case of uncontested seats. A vote for R.O.N is a vote for expecting better, a vote for common sense and democracy.

Returning to the problem of low turnout, one has to question if the Union has a mandate to represent the students of Stirling University, considering the majority of students were apathetic. This would perhaps be excusable if this was an outlier in university turnout history; unfortunately, it isn’t. Low turnout and a failure to engage meaningfully with students has plagued year after year of Union election. Something clearly needs to be done.

Jamie Grant and James Fitzsimons both talked about increasing student engagement with the Union in their manifestos. It was encouraging to see two of the three candidates for VP Communities had identified student engagement with the Union as a focus; still, painfully few students are voting in Union elections which shape the way our Union is run.

It simply isn’t enough to only talk about increasing student engagement. Something absolutely needs to be done and it needs to be done fast.

VP Communities Jess Logan has responded to Gregor’s article.

She said: “We consistently review and compare our statistics here at Stirling with other Scottish Universities. This year, along with 12 other Colleges and Universities, we participated in The Big Student Elections.

“These results tell us that our turnout of 2095 voters was higher than that of Robert Gordon University (1422), Edinburgh Napier (1251), University of West of Scotland (1035) and Edinburgh College (1052).

“Our 17.69% turnout is also comparative to larger institutions such as Strathclyde (18.4%) and Glasgow Caledonian (14.33%).

“This year, the Students Union was successful in receiving a grant from the National Union of Students which was invested in new materials and other novel ideas to help raise awareness of the Students Union elections.

“The initiatives that have been used this year to encourage voting have seen such positive reactions in students – my snapchat was full of alpacas yesterday! This was so amazing to see and we are always looking for new and exciting ways to engage with students.

“We have seen such fantastic involvement this year, not just in election turn-out and the number of people running for sabbatical candidates but in a wider context as well. As someone who has been involved with the Union from my first year here the growth in engagement has been absolutely phenomenal to see.

“Where in the past there was often a struggle to reach quoracy in GMs we now have had over 200 students at each one. Each of our zones are doing so well, with engagement never being so high for Education in particular.

“The Students’ Union is always keen to engage with students determined to help improve our democratic engagement. In addition to running or joining a campaign team, there are often unfilled positions for the non-partisan roles on the elections committee, who set out to ensure a smooth and clear elections process whilst promoting engagement.

“Of course we are always striving to improve all aspects of the Students’ Union and we would love to find out from those who don’t engage what would encourage them. But let us not ignore the leaps and bounds we have made over the years.”

Featured image credits: Stuart Graham

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