Voting in the SUSU elections is important, but the whole process is undermined by campaigns that reduce the arguments to who has the best tech skills.
The phrase “SUSU clique” gets used a lot to describe the close circle of buddies who run our union behind the scenes. It’s not a phrase that I like, because I genuinely believe that our Sabb officers are trying to make things better for students. The ones who I know work very hard and are very enthusiastic people, but I only know this because I’ve had some sort of contact with them before they began working for the union.
And there’s the problem for me; I shouldn’t be supporting someone because I think they’re a nice person, I should be supporting them because they have good ideas and are able to implement them effectively. If I knew that a candidate would have the motivation to carry out the things that they’ve promised in their manifesto, even if I didn’t agree with everything they have proposed, I’d rather vote for them than for someone who promises to transform the union into a utopian institution without having any clue how to do it. So how do I know who’s got the capacity to do what they say they will?
For most people at uni, the work of the union will largely pass them by, until they are suddenly asked to vote for a new set of officers. I don’t think the elections are a popularity contest but I do think that candidates rely on their friends to pull in as many votes as possible: “James has invited you to like the page ‘Vote X for Union President’”. Oh, all right then, if James thinks they’re decent, I’ll probably vote for them. Of course, this is a simplistic view. You could say that people who vote for candidates because they’ve been invited to like a page on Facebook aren’t paying enough attention. There are interviews, Q&As and adverts all over the place.
I strongly believe that engaging in a process that offers you the ability to have a say in how the union is run is a positive thing, but the campaign puts me off – it makes me disengage. When I see the punny slogans and photoshopped posters, even the ones that do make me laugh, I feel patronised. Candidates seem to think that the best way of proving that they are suitable for the job is to edit themselves into a scene from Harry Potter. Talk about student politics. If you want me to engage in a serious process, take me seriously as a voter.
Even if you do glance over the campaign slogans for some of the candidates, none of them really tell you anything revolutionary: “Put students first”. Right. “Run the union more efficiently”. OK. “Improve SUSU’s image”. Cheers. These are all things I’ve heard so many times before, and yet they don’t really mean anything. Of course, it’s difficult to condense all of your views into a memorable slogan, but whilst I’ve made those sound bites up, I’m sure that somewhere along the line people have used, and will continue to use, those exact words over again.
I realise that union elections are tricky, and I do intend to vote. Most people won’t know who the candidates are beforehand; it’s not like a national election where we see the people involved on our computers and TVs every day for 5 years before deciding who we want to see in charge. Not only do candidates have to sell their ideas, they also have to sell their personalities. But I’d much rather they did this by taking the time to do this, whilst also considering that everyone involved in the process is an adult, and should be treated like one.