The Real Problem with SUSU’s Brand
The only way to fix SUSU is for students to vote out the “SUSU Clique”.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, SUSU embarked upon a “rebranding” exercise – which, from the outcome, appears exceptionally poor value for money. However, I’m not really here to criticize the outcomes of the visual rebrand itself – that bandwagon is already sagging under the weight of a frustrated and disappointed student body – no, I’m here to highlight what I believe to be the actual problems with SUSU’s “Brand”.
Well, it’s more of a singular problem: The student body is so alienated with SUSU that positive change and democracy are impossible.
No matter how “democratically” you may attempt to frame it, SUSU’s representative democracy suffers from many of the same problems as the NUS. It is run by people so distant from the average student that it cannot hope to understand nor represent them, and in turn totally alienates anyone who might think of running for a position that doesn’t already fit this bill. There are occasionally individual exceptions to this rule, but as a single oarsman aboard the longship, they inevitably fail to have any impact on its overall course.
A common criticism of national politicians is that people couldn’t see themselves having a drink with them at the pub, creating a brand of national politics that on both sides fails to represent the ‘average’ Briton. Sabbs and Union Councillors tend to fit a similar mould, leading to a brand of SUSU politics which SUSU even acknowledge focuses only on “SUSU-specific issues” as opposed to enriching the lives of students. It overwhelmingly panders to the minority of students it magnetically attracts, and whilst the satisfaction of those students is equally important, it is imperative that ALL students are represented. However, as past years and the disgraceful use of procedural motions to disenfranchise proxy voters at this year’s AGM has demonstrated nobody involved with Union politics could hope to engage with or recognise any student different from themselves.
In turn, the impetus for change is worn down, and the majority of the student body becomes apathetic towards its union. The average student sees no opportunity to create real change, and doesn’t bother running for a position. On top of this, being a sabbatical officer is incredibly unattractive to the majority of students – it involves putting your life on hold for a year to live and breathe a toxic brand of union politics. If you don’t already find the way SUSU functions fairly agreeable, let’s face it, no matter how passionate about change you may be, you aren’t going to want to put yourself through that.
Thus, when it comes to SUSU elections, we are repeatedly met by a selection of candidates we cannot hope to understand nor engage with. As student voters, we are faced with a poor choice: Vote for the least objectionable candidate, or risk voting RON (re-open nominations) and letting someone even worse slip past.
This is somewhat similar to the problems faced with national politics, where voters have to weigh up voting for the major party they least dislike, or risk their vote “counting for nothing” by voting for a smaller party which better represents their values.
Union elections are NOT national election, and the RON vote DOES have power. Considering the size of our student body, and the general levels of democratic engagement, it is entirely possible for a future election to be disrupted by those who aren’t enthused by the selection voting RON.
RON is not a cop-out vote. It is a vote that says you are alienated by the current brand of student politics at this University, and you demand a positive change. It is a wake-up call to the representatives we begrudgingly elect and then spend the remainder of the year complaining about. This is a microcosm of politics, and every single vote has infinitely more power.
If the mass of alienated students actually got up and voted RON in SUSU elections, better candidates would undoubtedly emerge at the second run. This kind of institution can’t be changed in drips and drabs – it has unintentionally created barriers to that – only a seismic shift in union politics can hope to provide Southampton with a students union we can actually be proud of.
Is this realistic? Who knows. SUSU just got ripped off to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds for a much maligned rebrand, not so long after spending £1000 on T-shirts to advertise a referendum on the first time in living memory the University itself had actually listened to student opinion. The VP DCI introduced proxy voting to engage more students, yet the fallacy of union democracy allowed a 14-6 procedural motion to nullify a 176-84 popular vote for the clear and logical numbering of university buildings amongst other disenfranchising actions at the SUSU AGM.
In my eyes, it’s certainly food for thought.