Cramped into a corner of the media office, I sat down with the face of VP Communities for the past year, Jamie Grant, to find out how he feels about his year in office, his re-election campaign, his rival candidate, his aims for a second year and potential future careers. Yes, with the rapidity of which Jamie talks, we squeezed in a lot.
Grant is a very busy man and finding time to pin him down for a grilling proved difficult. Short of literally pulling him away from his job, where he can then officially talk about his re-election campaign, it seems that he thrives in being kept busy and active with his role.
As much as Grant has a lot on his plate, in terms of no longer having to juggle a dissertation, societies and general university pressures, I was curious to see how this year’s campaign had compared to his last.
“Obviously being an incumbent you have an advantage because you live and breathe this job for a year. . . essentially I’ve been paid to do this job for a year and it’s been my life. I’ve thrown myself into it and, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend and my friends and my flatmate, it has been my life.
“So you feel very well versed, you know; you’re used to handling the media, you’re used to doing hustings and being accountable for your actions and you can probably see that this year with Astrid and I sitting as incumbents. You know, we’re a lot more calmer about it.”
As we reflected on Grant’s year in office he revealed the moment he felt most proud of, was the negotiations with First Bus, even if he does admit he feels it has become a bit of a “dead horse” campaign-wise.
“The four week bus pass, to me, was the turning point because you hear all this about student solidarity and you hear all this about ‘yeah, we can do change collectively and all that jazz’, but that actually happened.
“It was theory in practice; it was okay, here’s change, it’s came through, the elected representatives don’t think it’s in the best interests of the students; we got key stakeholders on board, we got everybody in a room together and students just let their feelings known.”
150 students turned up to the meeting and the whole exercise brought about certain changes to First Bus’ policy, a moment Grant says was very rewarding in seeing the system work.
It’s moments like this that make those in the positions truly feel they are making an impact in their role. The majority of the SAABs this year who can re-run are doing so, therefore I was curious to know how far into his first year Grant was when he realised he really wanted to give another year a go.
“So, I mean, literally from day one you get questions like, ‘So are you going to go again?’ and it’s like, ‘Whoa, I’ve just been elected’, and there’s a time between when you’re elected in March to when you take office in June that your priorities are elsewhere.
“You get into June, July and August are setting up, you learn how to use email and telephone and you’re meeting with staff members here and staff members nationally, you’re chatting to the university.
“Then before you know it, it’s September and it’s Freshers, and you’re meeting thousands of new people and getting recognised in places you would never think.
“The turning point for me was – essentially there was a student in distress and we dealt with that, and it just made me realise, ‘You know what, this role is really valuable and it’s really important’.”
Despite being well versed in the campaigning process, it can never be 100% easy campaigning against a friend for the same position. Grant never fails to admit that his rival Rachel Bradshaw is just that, a friend. But he explains how this does not complicate issues. He jokes that although he should not bolster her campaign he does believe her to be a fantastic officer.
“Obviously, you want yourself to win because it’s an election, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it if Rachel wins, because I think she’d carry forward an excellent manifesto.
“She would listen to others, she would play a valuable team role and she would do a good job, and I’d hope she’d think the same of me, having worked with me for a year under my chairmanship of the Community Zone.”
A subject that he makes clear he feels very passionately about is that of the mental health support available to students which he sees as a three pronged approach.
He believes revamping the STEER programme to suit students, providing Scottish Mental Health First Aid training and putting it at the heart of Clubs and Societies, and lastly by opening up conversation about mental health. He admits there are limited resources and he believes they must be used in a smarter way, which could be achieved if mental health was more talked up.
He explains how he’s been able to help students in crisis over this year by openly talking to them about the issues they are having and he admits how being able to talk has helped him with his own crisis’ in the past.
“That’s why I find the role quite valuable because I’ve been in crisis in the past and I’ve had help and it’s about giving that help back. It would be selfish of me to not give that back if I had the chance.”
Lastly, whether his campaign is successful this year or not, I was keen to find out if his experience as VP Communities had helped him to decide what he would like to beyond his time at Stirling University.
“I was quite partisan before coming into this role, obviously because I’m from an SNP background, but this role has taught me the value of getting everyone on board and not seeing things in a very narrow light.
“Whether it’s helping Socialist society getting back on its feet, or trying to revive the Lib Dems, or helping Labour or helping the Greens. You know, I feel it’s enabled me to see things from a much wider perspective and that’s something I always wanted to bring to the role; what I felt has maybe been lacking previous years is that – not neutrality – but a kind of non-partisan, ‘we’re here to represent everyone’, ‘let’s get everyone’s views on board’ so … maybe the Civil Service is for me. In the end, you know, a faceless bureaucrat somewhere.”
Whether Jamie Grant does decide to become a “faceless bureaucrat” beyond this election, I can safely say he will throw himself into it whole-heartedly and be just as busy as ever.
Voting opens on the March 12 at 9am until March 13 at 6.15pm with the results party being held at 7pm in Venue. Stay tuned for all the Union Elections action with Brig and you can see Jamie and the other candidates’ manifestos here.