Big massive shout out to The Student, Ilinca and Thurston for this well written article of Edinburgh’s, not simply EUSA’s, problem of toxic and vile attitudes during campaigning period: “Edinburgh, we have a problem.”
It’s always useful to voice disillusion with organisations that are meant to represent you but you feel they don’t, and it’s totally legitimate to not want to get involved with student politics if you believe it is too cliquey. Both of these beliefs are true, to an extent. For the last few years, or perhaps as long as I’ve been involved in student politics, it has been incredibly cliquey, with rivalry playing out between NOLS and Trots. Also, not every sabb is able to put every single policy into place, understandably. I always felt, however, that this “rivalry” was not that toxic, apart from a few vicious occurrences between individuals. It has been mostly mutually playful, half-meaning half-not meaning the offhand insults we chuck at each other.
This election has shown that the problem isn’t only factionalism. If it was, and people didn’t want to vote because disillusioned, why would they bluntly admit that they won’t vote for a candidate because he is gay and open about his sexuality? The offensive accusations and excuses I’ve seen people throw around seem to a be masquerading their bigotry rather than a genuine loss of faith in and constructive criticism about EUSA and those involved. Alleged attacks on current and hopeful sabbs’ politics and policies are thinly-veiled, bigoted assaults on character and person. This is smearing at its finest, presenting facts twisted for their own aggressive agendas and cherry-picking evidence to exaggerate facts and turn people against each other.
For years, sabb hopefuls have campaigned with policies to try and get more students involved and interested in EUSA and to convince them that sabbs and elected representatives are there to support them and improve their university lives, not steamroll into EUSA with their own personal agendas. Of course, I believe it is necessary for sabbs to be political. I’m fed up with candidates saying they should be apolitical and not take a stance on matters of oppression on campus and beyond. This is harmful. Policies to improve representation of marginalized groups on campus and expressions of outrage or solidarity are needed to represent the worries and struggles of students in Edinburgh and oppressed groups worldwide. Even if a candidate did run saying they were “apolitical”, I believe this would be impossible. Everything you do or actively do not do around contentious political issues or problems around minority representation is political. Opting out of being political IS STILL POLITICAL!
Even if you are not aligned with a political party or group, your lived experiences, oppressions and preferences will shape how you go about your role as a representative. But no one is saying that that is all they will fight for, and that they will ignore the needs of all students. EUSA has been accused of being “too political” and excluding students in some of their campaigns, whether it is putting out messages of solidarity to those fighting and dying in Palestine, or campaigning against Rape Culture and Lad Banter on campus. Never are these campaigns pursued in the name of harming students; on the contrary, they are put in place to protect them and uphold values of inclusivity. Often, to protect groups already vulnerable in society. Furthermore, most of these types of campaigns are voted in through student council, which is open to all. Disagreement with the aims of the campaigns does not equate to the campaigns actively seeking to hurt and misrepresent you.
I’d go far as saying I expect sabb candidates to be involved in political decisions. I wouldn’t trust someone who said they won’t bring their politics into their role. I don’t doubt for a second that if they were elected as sabb their political opinions or preferences would eventually play out in their decisions.
Asking a sabb to be political is not asking them to ignore everything but their own opinions. It is to take into account that yes, we may disagree, but I trust you to make informed decisions and listen to me when I ask you to take a stand on issues that effect me. I would be outraged if we didn’t campaign against Rape Culture or express outrage and solidarity to the people of Palestine because it was “too contentious”. Since when was sticking up for oppressed people and people being murdered a contentious issue?
We are students and we have interests and a duty to speak out against injustices when possible. I would dare any of us try and cope in the “real world” once we graduate while being apolitical and neutral on all matters of politics. I would also be incredibly upset if my union did not stand up for what I and many other students believed to be right. It is nonsense to suggest that this is possible or should be mandated.
You cannot separate the politics from the person, that is certain, but when was that a bad thing? Political disagreement isn’t the end of the world. Sticking up for what is right and banding together against blatant bigotry and injustice despite difference of opinion is necessary, whether those issues are on our campus or beyond.
I think now it has dawned on many of us who are involved in these factions – or are just old hacks – that we aren’t the worst problem. The problem is intolerance, and we need to work together stamp that out.
“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is what you’re naively suggesting. I’d say “ignore no evil, challenge all evil, and speak the truth”. Encourage your representatives to stand up against injustice, and don’t chastise them when they do.