With voting for UCLU elections underway, we catch up with Democracy and Communications Officer candidate Ben McCabe.
What do you aim to achieve if elected DCO?
It goes without saying that we have a severe lack of engagement within this union. Dreadful levels of turnout and the number of meetings where not enough people show up, are symptoms of a wider problem. We need systemic changes and the filming of union council meetings would be one example of a good step forward. But I don’t think we can kid ourselves any longer: we have to face the fact that students don’t engage with this union because a small number of people at the top care more about arrogantly imposing their political agendas than pushing for things students really care about.
Why should you be elected?
I think if we are going to reform this union to give students the representation they deserve, we need representatives to be clearly seen as different to past candidates. Someone who will not tolerate union bullying of societies, who will stand up for free speech and make sure every single student knows exactly what their union is up to. And I think I’m the right person for the job.
What are the main problems faced by the DCO?
The most damning indictment of the office is clearly the low level of engagement we have right now. We need to let people know what the union is doing through more direct emails and regular meetings with student media, but also make sure they know how to make their voice heard if the union does something they disagree with. So meetings of council and members should be more widely publicised and we should make sure students know how to propose a motion.
How do you respond to concerns that the union doesn’t reach out to the majority of the student body?
It’s not just that the union doesn’t reach out to the majority – it’s that often our union ‘representatives’ have actively alienated sections of the student body through divisive votes on international issues and the abject failure to defend one of the most popular events on the student calendar – the Varsity rugby match. We need a union that celebrates vibrant and diverse debate within our clubs and societies, but doesn’t impose one view on all of us as a Union and arrogantly expect all of the 25,000+ students to agree on it.
There has been some debate on campus as to how well communicated the last referenda were. Do you think it should have been handled differently and do you think it was right to go ahead with the introduction of new full-time officers considering the referendum did not meet quorum?
Speaking to people at the time, it was clear that people didn’t even know a referendum was going on, and if they did, they didn’t know what it was about. I think the fact that such an important vote was inquorate shows clearly how much of a shambles our Union’s democratic engagement strategy has been. The referendum itself was advisory so the decision was ultimately one for Union Council.
Do you have a final message for our readers?
There is a clear choice in this election – do we want to end the alienation of members and promote the real concerns of students or head into next year on the same trajectory we’re on right now? We need a Union that recognises the diversity of opinion of our members, and the choice couldn’t be clearer.
If you’d like to contact Ben about his candidacy you can do so via Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BenForAFreeAndFairUnion or tweet him @bernardmccabe