Sugar, sports, and sending a message – an interview with the new LUSU President

Are Oliver Robinson’s manifesto pledges realistic?

It’s been a very turbulent year for student politics at Lancaster University, to say the least. With uproar caused over the decision to enter negotiations over selling the Sugarhouse spurring on the Students’ Union’s AGM, followed by three Full Time Officer (FTO) resignations, culminating in ex-LUSU President George Nuttall being dismissed (subject to appeal).

Since then, there’s been an appointment of an Interim President, and a by-election held to decide who would take the reins from the Interim President in the coming academic year. However, this wasn’t without controversy either, with any progress made by the “Send a Message, Vote RON” Campaign being invalidated following LUSU’s decision to disqualify votes to reopen nominations (RON).

Now, The Tab Lancaster reached out to LUSU President-elect, Oliver Robinson, to discuss what on Earth’s been going on in the crazy world that is Lancaster University. We discussed everything from Spoons to saving college sport – and more – in his first interview since being elected.

If we were in Lancaster, how would you have celebrated your election?

“With no lockdown… Drinks at Tipple would be a solid way to start the night. Then to Spoons, and maybe to Sugar – then maybe back to Tipple. Lots of Tipple involved! The cocktail bar is fantastic, if a little expensive, but it’s a celebration!”

Your votes accounted for less than four per cent of the student population – will this go against you when fighting the Board of Trustees?

“I don’t doubt it. Even without the circumstances of RON’s exclusion, my mandate is under question. The fact that so few students took part in the first place, and then with the exclusion of RON… but I got around a third of the votes, as I got around 500 votes, or thereabouts.

“The thing that bugs me is that I got around 800 votes in Lent Term when I ran for VP Union Development, and I’ve got 500 votes this time. Does that make my mandate this time stronger or weaker? I take solace that I was first in every single round of voting. But the fact of the matter is that not enough students are getting involved because they don’t think there’s a point to these elections.”

As you said, you stood for VP Union Development in Lent Term – why did you not run for President at that time, when it was unopposed?

“I didn’t know George was going to be unopposed. I was expecting him to be opposed, and it was on that basis that I made my decision. I briefly considered it, but George is a friend, and it wasn’t something that I was going to do to him. I thought he’d done a fairly good job dealing with the Sugarhouse business, he did a fairly good job fighting for student interests. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but I felt that I could work with him, and he had his heart in the right place.

“At the time, I thought ‘George has done a good job so far, there’s no reason to-…’ As far as I was aware, at the time, George had done a good job! And that was the decision in my head there, so I went for Union Development.”

If you had to save college C league sport or save Sugar, which would it be?

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“It’s an interesting dichotomy because the Sugarhouse makes us money! The argument I would make in that situation would be that we would keep the Sugarhouse in order to save the C leagues!

“But we’re in a post-COVID world, and the budgetary constraints are being put on us by the university, and the commercial services are suffering as a result. If the Sugarhouse isn’t allowed to open by the government then it isn’t going to make us any money.”

Sugar or Dalton Rooms?

“Sugar. No question in my mind, absolutely none. I confess, I’ve only been to Dalton’s a couple of times, and I haven’t been since Freshers’ Week in my first year! That’s how much I prefer Sugar. Yeah, strongly Sugar.”

What’s the best JCR space?

“My favourite bar to spend time in is Trevor [Furness College]. But if we’re not talking about bars, Cartmel College computer room is a great place to get work done. It’s quiet, and it’s really quaint. It’s quite a nice place to be, I spent a lot of time in there during my first year.”

Do you think George Nuttall will win his appeal?

“I don’t know. I can’t say, because I don’t know what the content of the appeal, nor the original accusation is. I was angry at the time, because George is my friend. But I have no idea if the appeal will be successful. From the position of his friend, I wish him all the best in both his appeal, and the future – whatever that may bring. But I hope that the situation is revolved as quickly and as painlessly as possible; for his sake, and for the Union.

“There are few things worse than being under investigation and not knowing the result. I hope that it’s resolved fairly. It’s justice and fairness that I want, more than anything else; as an individual, as President-elect, and as a person.”

Did you talk to George when you submitted your candidacy for President, and have you spoken to him since?

“Well, in a roundabout sort of way, yes, but not-… yes and no, is the answer. That’s not my story to tell. Yes and no. And I appreciate that isn’t much of an answer!

“I’ve talked to him a little bit, but perhaps not as much as I should’ve done. I know he’s been trying to take time away from the Union, just for his own sake. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult this is.”

How realistic is your goal to reform the Board of Trustees, given 75 per cent of them need to agree with you?

“Yes, 75 per cent is absolutely required. It has been done in the past, and I think by bringing student pressure to bear we can persuade trustees that this is the right way forward. They should be representative of the student body at the highest level. It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be personnel changes.

“Is this possible? Yes. It’s a question of likelihood. Will they let me do it? Make no mistake, I will try, and keep trying. But I’ll feel bad, and I’ll feel like I have failed if, at the end of my term, I have not secured a fully elected Trustee Board at the very least.”

What’s your reaction to County’s threat of disaffiliation from LUSU over the RON debate?

“My initial response to County is that they are perfectly justified in doing this. If the Union is not representing the interest of County students then the JCR have their own mandate, their own section of the student body to consider. They are morally justified, and I wish them all the best.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Pressure mounts on LUSU over by-election disqualification

‘They will all be unable to make any changes to LUSU’: the ‘Vote RON’ campaign speaks out

Your guide to the LUSU FTO hustings 2020