An interview with the EUSA Presidential candidate: William McLaughlan
Mental health and student support are at the centre of his campaign
Fourth year Law student William McLaughlan is clear in what he wants to achieve as EUSA President. He wants to launch a mental health enquiry around the university and significantly improve the support offered to students.
So first off, easy question, why are you running?
I’m running because I feel that the university isn’t doing enough to support students. It isn’t taking students views into account and what they should be doing to support them. And EUSA’s got a lot they could doing to help this situation, whether it’s looking at the support it provides, or campaigning to the uni in order to make it improve its support.
Where do you think that the university is going wrong in supporting students – that’s the first thing you said?
I feel a lot of the support is ad hoc – you’re relying on personal tutors and it’s just your luck if your personal tutor is good at supporting you or not. I feel with the counselling sessions what I’ve found is that some people say there’s not a limit on sessions, some people say there is. I know when I wanted to go for counselling sessions in 2nd year there was a limit, I was told. I know when I did an interview with The Student, the university had told a person at The Student that there wasn’t a limit. But as far as I know, it’s 4 sessions which is extendable to 6. So I feel the University just kind of dodges it’s responsibilities in terms of support
Counselling is only one part of mental health support and mental health support is a keystone of this campaign and a keystone of support and crucially, making sure we support students. But we need to look at other ways of doing that.
What are those other ways?
We don’t know. I don’t know. You don’t know. The university, EUSA don’t know. Only the collective student body know which is why one of my key policies is – we are going to hold a mental health enquiry. Get all these voices heard. What do students want to see? Let’s get the liberation officers in, let’s get the communities in. We know that in the different liberation communities that they do suffer higher levels of mental health, let’s see why, let’s see how we can help that.
I can’t tell people how I can support them, they can tell me what I can do to help them and I think that EUSA need it to the same and that is why I want to get elected and get into EUSA, become the President so EUSA can look to students and say ‘what can we do?’, not ‘here’s what we’re offering’, but ‘what do you want us to do?’.
Would you say that’s the most important part of your campaign and the biggest issue facing students at the moment at Edinburgh?
Mental health is definitely a crucial part of the campaign. I feel the biggest part of the campaign is to bring about a Support Place – I want to change the Advice Place to be a Support Place. I feel, first of all, it’s not just about perception but perception is a big part.
If it’s called the SUPPORT PLACE, people know they’re not going there to get told something they can do to help themselves, they will go there to get that help. That Support Place, I feel, will facilitate a lot more general support in different areas to allow EUSA to position itself, to not limit itself and the kinds of support it can provide.
So we won’t say you can come in here to talk about mental health, housing or whatever it may be. We will say you can come in here to tell us your problems and what we can do for you. If there’s something we can do, we will do it. If not, you might find there’s still advice that has to be given but we will help them seek that advice. If they need to go and write a letter to someone, or speak to someone, we will do that. We shouldn't just be waiting for students to come with us with problems, we should be going out and looking for students with these problems.
You’re not somebody who has, broadly speaking, been actively involved in student politics before?
I’ve been actively involved in and very interested in domestic politics of the country. I’ve taken part in movements such as the Young Europeans Movement. I’m active politically. But I feel for the majority of my time at University, EUSA just doesn’t seem to be working with students and that can be as a result of either, one – they’re actually not working as actively for students as they should be or two – students don’t know what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter which one of those it is, or if it’s both, or one or the other – we need to ensure that we’re not only supporting students, but that students know that support is there. We need to build a trust that they know works for them. Why would you vote in an election where people don’t feel like it makes that much of a difference?
So why are you standing now?
Because I want to give a voice to those people that aren’t voting, and I want to try and pull those people out to vote so that the original question does hit at the full point of this campaign and I feel when you look at the next couple of days and if you keep up with my Facebook page, you’d see that we’re maybe running a traditional campaign – it’s going to be vastly different to a lot of the other campaigns.
What I want to be is an authentic leader and that’s what you’ll get from me. You’ll be able to trust me. But not everything’s going to go right – when you get elected to a position like this it’d be wrong for anyone to sit here and say that this is all going to go perfect.
So why should readers trust you over any of the other candidates?
Well that’s a judgement for them to make. So we’re going to put the media and the videos out there. But all they really have to work with from anyone is what they think of the person, what my views are, in terms of the support, I’ve been there myself, I’ve struggled with the university support system. I’m frustrated at it.
We’re going to receive kick-back from the uni, they’re going to say no, but what you can trust from me is that I will fight against that. We will push and push and push until they do turn around. So when you look at the manifestos, it might not be the easiest to achieve, it’s also not impossible, I would say it’s not the most far-fetched manifesto out there. But what we’ve got is a very realistic but difficult manifesto which will make a real change to the way that EUSA is run and that is going to be focused on students and what they need for support. And if that level of support is there, people will trust EUSA, people will vote in the elections, we can get more people along to events and more voices will be heard. And it all hinges on the support and the trust that will get that to happen.
How would you fund policies such as the having a Housing Officer?
Well there’s many different ways. We can first of all look towards getting students in from the Law School, either ones that are just graduating, or even in their final year. We could split that role between two individuals – two part time individuals who can be there anytime you walk into the support place, there is a housing support officer there.
And they’re paid?
So you’re going to bring in a full-time person…that’s quite a lot of money.
It is, but I feel that we can go and look for the support that I’ve received when I’d spoken to Patrick Kilduff, for example, who said that EUSA will be able to find money to do things. I might not be able to look at the finances and find it straight away but what you need to trust in me is that I am fully behind this, pushing for support so we will find the money.
I see this as a choice. I don’t see this as ‘should we spend money getting housing support?’, I see this as ‘where are we getting that money? How do we get that person in here?’ I don’t see it as, I get elected and am then told we don’t have money for that right now. Where do we get it from? We will go and find it. And you can trust me damn right I will find that money. When the university can afford to spend £35 million renovating McEwan Hall, £33.5 million renovating Old College and when the university can spend £80,000 on an increase to the Principal’s salary, why can’t we afford a housing officer for students? Why can’t we do that? We deserve one, we should have one, and we’re going to get one.
Since the interview, William has pledged to donate £2,000 of his President's salary to the Support Place in his manifesto.