It has probably been noted by someone once that behind every successful election candidate there is a deluge of anonymous volunteers who work hard spreading the message of the candidate, handing out flyers, putting up posters and doing the general dogsbody work that keeps the election machine ticking over. These people get involved because they feel passionately about the causes they are fighting for and last night I became a small cog in the bloated machine that is the EUSA elections.
It all happened because I’d been round to visit a friend who happens to live in the same house (it is a house, not a flat) as a EUSA Presidential candidate and so the living room was full of campaign material including posters that needed to be pasted on to cardboard. And so, because it seemed rude not to help, I got my hands sticky helping my friend paste some posters for the candidate’s campaign.
I didn’t feel entirely at ease doing it though. For starters I felt guilty being one of those despicable people who contribute to the mass graffiti of election posters that adorn every available bit of space in and around University buildings at this time of year and have all the aesthetic pleasure of a breezeblock in Milton Keynes. But more than that I didn’t feel comfortable being part of a self-important, inflated and egotistical process that myself and the vast majority of students genuinely care less about than the choice between smoked or unsmoked bacon.
Last year 21% of students voted on who they wanted to be the EUSA President. Figures like that don’t suggest apathy so much as a passive/aggressive protest against the whole malarkey in the first place. That’s certainly the view of Felix Trench, a student who hilariously attempted to sell his EUSA vote on eBay so that he could “promote an 'active apathy' movement to protest against the whole thing and try to drill in some sort of common sense.” The housemate who was putting the posters together also felt that there were much more important things to worry about in the world than these elections but at least it was something for him to do of an evening.
The problem most people have isn’t an anti-EUSA thing though. I don’t know exactly what EUSA does do for me but the Unions are still standing, accommodation exists and societies get their funding. I’ve never felt the need to get anything else from EUSA and so I’ve always assumed that things have been moving along in that tedious way that administrations tend to. And yet every year we are subjected to an avalanche of garish posters, moronic slogans and mindless minions interrupting lectures in order to tell us to vote for so-and-so because they absolutely guarantee to revolutionise what it is to be a student at Edinburgh University.
The role of the President is one that requires a lot of time and dedication, hence the year’s sabbatical and not too shabby £21,000 salary that comes with the office, and students waging these fruitless campaigns where they spend most of their time accusing each other of fondling ferrets in direct contravention of some arcane EUSA law is detrimental to the entire process and off-putting to anyone who’s not interested in adding another notch to their future political career CV.
Students have always been keen to voice their opinion. God knows why, we're in the worst possible position to make rational decisions. Students have no idea what the real world is like because we're floating around in this bubble between school and the real world. And so every year individuals decide to play at being politicians and try and wage a campaign that no one cares about because they want to try it out. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t such an invasion of everyone else’s time spent in and around University at this time of year.
It’s an administrative position as well, not a political one. A certain Devil once suggested to me that if you don’t pay income and council tax then you’re not entitled to a political opinion. I’ll leave it up to you how much you agree with that but there is this to be said for it: when people vote for political parties in elections they are doing so because of issues involving welfare, taxes, defence, education and health care that are fundamental to people’s lives. I don’t know or care which candidate gets voted in as President because I know that I won’t notice it affecting my life either way. I certainly haven’t noticed these past three years anything that the President has done that’s changed my life at Edinburgh University and I can’t see that changing. It’s not a bad thing, I’m quite content with the status quo.
I remember back in my first year there was a ridiculous amount of controversy surrounding Boris Johnson standing for the position of Rector. There were posters everywhere both for and against, depressingly immature smear campaigns from both sides of the fence and in the end the election happened and someone else won. Can anyone actually remember who won? Or how the Rector of Edinburgh University has caused a fundamental shift in the way of life for students? No, of course not, the whole thing just got blown out of all proportion because students love jumping on their opinionated high horses and giving their egos a good airing.
Even hinting that maybe deciding the President through elections might not be the best method is liable to a swift knee-jerk kick in the knackers from the so-called democracy brigade but just entertain this thought experiment for a moment: what if instead of narcissistic morons wasting precious carbon resources and everyone’s time in a hyped-up popularity contest that 4/5s of students don’t care about, there was a nomination process where people who may feel intimidated by running such a relentless and ultimately unnecessary process could put themselves forward, get interviewed for the job by a group of EUSA officials who understand what the job entails and then be appointed President? It’s how most administrative positions are handed out in the real world anyway and I’d feel more comfortable with that than having to put up with this shit at the same time every gorram year.