Tash Miller’s year as Student Union President was a tumultuous one. From the Stirling student body voting for the Union to go 100 per cent plant based by 2025 to the biggest UCU strikes and being in a team without a VP Education, she was kept busy throughout.
“My absolute highlight was the Jack McConnell event,” said the former Union President.
“As small a room as it was, to sit on a panel with a former First Minister of Scotland, someone who politically I’ve watched for a very long time, someone that, of his stature, his level, all of that, was just fantastic.”
At the time Stirling University Chancellor, Lord McConnell, had been under fire for speaking out against proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland.
Miller continued, “I don’t actually think we ever would have gotten there had Lord McConnell not made those comments just before Christmas. He wasn’t really on the radar. We didn’t have an excuse to ask.
“And all of a sudden, he made those comments. And actually, we used it to our political advantage and said, you know, how do we get the chancellor on campus.”
As a result, Miller was able to interview and speak to Lord McConnell in an intimate setting set up for Stirling students. This was a key part of her original manifesto to bridge the gap between students and the senior university team and set up an opportunity for students to be part of the conversation. This was massively heightened by McConnell’s comments that isolated part of the Stirling student body.
“To convince him to come onto campus and approach the situation head on is massive. The people who went were just fantastic and absolute testaments to the community we have at Stirling.”
It wasn’t just her own aims and manifesto that Miller had to fulfil. The Sabbatical cohort of that year was down a VP Education, an incredibly important role.
As the President’s role was most aligned with that of VP Education, Miller stepped up to fill in.
“I took on quite a lot of that, which meant that for me now, I still think I didn’t do as much as what I did,” she said.
“And the stuff that I did do, I maybe would have liked to have done to a higher standard.”
One specific item that was missed out on was an idea she had for lighting on campus to make walking around much safer and more accessible.
“It’s like that’s just an insanely massive project. And I just knew very early on when we didn’t have a VP that it wasn’t going to happen.
“It was either that or do six or seven smaller projects. And I think doing six or seven smaller projects is probably the better way to go.”
Controversy in the uni
Arguably the biggest thing to happen on campus and in the Union, not just in Tash’s time, but ever, was the vote that made the Stirling Student Union the first in the country to commit to be 100 per cent plant based by 2025.
Miller told Brig that she was approached by everyone from Scotland to Vietnamese National News for comments and even old school friends from Australia had reached out after hearing about it.
Despite it being an incredibly hectic time on the job, Miller believes the domino effect of the situation was positive.
Reflecting on this time, she said “But I think now, when you look at it from a democracy perspective and a political perspective, I really think that that was one of the best things that could have happened.
“Our voter turnout went up. The union was front-page news for a while, so people were being more exposed to it, more people turning up to vote, because that’s what we’ve just been talking about all year, saying, well, if you want to vote, vote.”
“Would it have been the motion, if I could choose what motion triggered it? Probably not that one.
“But another motion might not have caused that mayhem. And it’s too stressful. I think the team at the Union handled it so brilliantly, because it was so, so stressful. It was mad, even from our perspective.”
Despite a successful year, Miller decided not to rerun for the role – a decision she didn’t take lightly.
“Towards the end of the year, I’ve never really kind of shared publicly, but I burnt out really badly and ended up having to take a week off work,” she said.
“I didn’t have any annual leave left. I didn’t have any sick leave. In that week, there was quite a few points where I genuinely didn’t think I’d come back and finish the year.”
Miller continued: “Because a lot of that came down to the way that we are spoken to and that we are spoken about, the responsibility being one year out of university, but representing 17,000 students and putting one kind of foot out of line, one toe out of line and everything can come crashing down.
“So I wish I felt that I could run again. And I wish that I felt that I had another year in me. But I was comfortable knowing that, well if I can get up and just finish this year.
“One year done well is so much better than taking an experience away from someone else and not doing that year very well. I just don’t think a second year was in me.
“I think if I forced it, I just would have let a lot of people down. I’m glad I didn’t rerun, but I kind of had to convince myself, no, this is the right decision.”
Despite her mental struggles, Miller did not blame the Union for a lack of preparation:
“You are 100 per cent just literally in the deep end. But there is nothing that anyone can do to prepare you for it.”
Before running Miller had plenty of experience: having been a part time officer, the president of the Stirling University rowing club for three years as well as having close friendships with Sabbatical officers previously.
“No one was getting exposure to the Union and to the Sabbatical life more than what I was,” she said.
“The Union does its absolute best to prepare you. There’s no comprehending what the job is like. Even now, I still find it difficult to comprehend that job.”
Despite the weight of the job, the former Union President is able to look back objectively and positively at her year.
Miller concluded: “Then you get to the end and you go, oh, I did that. I actually didn’t do too bad a job. Like, okay, maybe there were points where I was swimming and not just treading water.”
Featured image credit – Tash Miller