An open letter to the SU

The SU in election mode (Image credit: Sam Saunders)

By Sam Saunders

As it will have definitely not escaped your attention, last week was the official SU campaign week for 17 positions within the Students’ Union, most notably the seven paid sabbatical officers. This number will become eight in next year’s election, with the addition of a full-time Welsh Language Officer position.

It’s admirable that the SU is committed to student democracy in this way and that, despite financial hardships, these officers are paid a reasonable salary and that because of this, the union remains run by students, for students. However, as is commented on almost every year, there are numerous ways in which this process could be improved upon, which is what I want to focus on in this column. It’ll take the form of an open letter to the SU, in which I’ll outline my thoughts about the elections, and how I believe they could be improved.

First off, I think that the voting period should be extended to around three weeks, with campaign week sandwiched in between the two ‘fallow’ weeks. I say this because I feel that unless you are actively involved/interested in the elections, then the one week period puts a lot of pressure on students to get au fait with the candidates and manifestos.

Instead, the manifestos should be released a week before campaigning starts, then campaign week should take place, with question time scheduled. Finally, a ‘cooling-off’ week after the madness of campaigning would give voters enough time to make up their minds about who they want to vote for. If the SU would be reluctant to implement this, that’s understandable, and I completely get that most students would dread an extension to the election period. If this was the case, I would suggest that the SU should release the manifestos a week before the start of campaigning, so that students could familiarise themselves with the different candidates.

Secondly, and this is something that I am a fan of anyway, is mandatory voting in the elections, so that the views of the entire student population are represented. Some sort of advantage to voting would have to be offered, but I think it is absolutely ridiculous that 6,851 students voted in the elections in 2016/17, out of a population of 31,597. That’s a turnout of 21.7%. It’s frankly ridiculous that all of the officers are elected on this paltry amount of students. As much as the SU commits to trying to increase the numbers of students who vote, I feel that these first two improvements would dramatically increase participation and engagement in the elections.

Furthermore, there are some improvements that I believe the SU needs to make to the constraints placed upon candidates during the elections. There were several reports last week of candidates tearing down the posters and banners of their direct rivals during campaign week, which I think is abhorrent behaviour.

Each candidate receives a budget from the SU for these materials, so it’s ridiculous that some people think they have the right to go around and destroy other people’s property, as this policy is a key factor in ensuring a free and fair election. It’s important as it allows anyone to campaign and removes the chance of those with wealthy parents or relatives steamrollering the competition and the election with superior resources. Therefore, I propose that any candidate found to be doing this should be immediately disqualified from the elections.

However, I think that candidates should be able to directly criticise their rivals, as pointing out holes in their policies is surely a huge part of convincing people to vote for you. Perhaps this is too much of a slippery slope, but I think that this should at least be implemented at Election Question time.

The current format of question time isn’t great, because candidates have no chance to directly address each other and criticise their arguments, and are allowed to dodge the difficult questions, as they only have to pre-prepare answers to two questions from a possible five. This led to the question of which policy was least feasible due to the financial pressure on the Union going completely ignored, which would have been very interesting.

Therefore, I think that the current format should be revised into more of an open debate, so that the candidates introduce themselves and then respond to questions posed by the chair. They would also have the opportunity to come back to points made by other candidates. In addition to these changes, election question time must be attended by all candidates or they shouldn’t be allowed to run, as it was ridiculous that only one of the five AU president candidates was actually there on Thursday before campaign week. There should also be none of this sending in statements for the chair to read, as this negates the pressure of answering unseen questions from the audience and means that students who choose to attend can’t see the candidates in a different environment.

I also think that for question time to be an effective tool for testing the candidates, it should be made a bronze tier requirement (with the same constraints as the AGM) for all societies and sports clubs. This would mean that a sufficient number of students would be present to hear what the candidates had to say, as well as increasing student engagement with elections.

Finally, any candidate who nominates themselves but doesn’t bother to upload a photo and a manifesto shouldn’t be included in the manifesto document or the website voting options, which they rightly haven’t been this year. This shows a slight contempt for the SU voting process, and there’s also an environmental issue, as the union could have saved a few pages of printing on each manifesto copy of they had followed this policy.

As always, thanks for reading guys. This column was more of a ranty comment piece, so I hope you liked the change of flavour. We’ve got a week off because it’s reading week, so I’ll see you all in two weeks.

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