‘I wish I had the power to install free buses’: We spoke to SU President candidate Duncan Michie
“I’m trying to start a fight with management, the politest person won’t do that.”
Duncan Michie is a third-year Chemistry student who aims to radicalise the Students' Union should he be elected as president.
If elected, Duncan would focus his efforts on grassroots activism to get 'leverage' over university officials, rather than 'endless meetings with management'.
He tells us that those who disagree with his manifesto will not be represented by his actions and that he will never meet with Adam Tickell unless he is issuing demands.
We sat down to talk to Duncan about some of his policies.
You list 21 points on your manifesto. This implies you would need to complete a pledge every two weeks. What will you prioritise in order to deliver ?
Duncan tells us that he would prioritise "trying to abolish the CEO position and using his wage to fund free buses." The Cut-The-Rent activist would also focus closely on "housing and bringing back varsity".
Last year's varsity descended into chaos, but Duncan doesn't think that will happen again; "I think the main problem was that all the games were held on the same day. I would have them played throughout the year."
Duncan also states that "It was also very alcohol induced." but says "I am not against alcohol, I love a drink myself."
You state you will "Abolish the Students' Union CEO, and use the money saved to fund free buses during term-time." How will you abolish the role of the CEO?
As a founder of ACORN, Duncan believes "we can put on a lot of pressure" to achieve this. He plans to "facilitate grassroots action rather than endless meetings with management where you have no leverage."
Regarding 'free buses', if one were to provide students with bus passes for B&H buses, annual costs would be over £6.38million. Duncan tells us that, instead, he would create a new shuttle bus and "initially target peak times".
Bringing in a new shuttle bus service would require driver salaries, insurance and running costs. As a way around this, Duncan proposes that after a pilot year, "students could pay a one-off charge for a bus pass for a year" to expand the scheme, although we point out that this would not qualify as 'free buses'.
At peak times, buses run every five minutes. This would require employing at least six bus drivers. Duncan also tells us that his vision for the shuttle bus is that it will terminate at Lewes Road Garage.
This would mean that students living closer to town and first years could not benefit from the system. Duncan admits that "we can't rival Brighton and Hove buses" and that funds would be hard to find, even if he could achieve removing the CEO.
He tells us, "I plan this for September 2019. In terms of flaws in bus times and missing out students, you're right.
"I wish I had the power to install free buses in the city, but that would be impossible. The students union doesn't have the resources to do it."
When asked why students should vote for a free bus scheme which would only affect a minority, if successful, Duncan explains that:
"voting to specifically help yourself is not the spirit of elections. If you look at the turn out in SU elections, the majority are third years who never get to see the ends of the manifestos."
We have received several reports that recent strike action and protesting has led to a negative impact on mental health of students. How will you deal with this, considering that you've been a face of protesting on campus?
Duncan has been heavily active in the organisation of protesting on campus. He tells us that "In terms of students that have faced problems with mental health as a result of these strikes, it's awful. This has been really horrible for everyone."
On Facebook, Duncan stated that "There seems to be this 'red scare' … that students are going to be called scabs, bullied and harassed… that couldn't be further from the truth".
However, The Tab Sussex have had reports of intimidation from protesters and can confirm that the term scab has been directed at students. Duncan tries to reassure us that he has "been very clear that I don't want the use of that word to be targeted against students". This appears to conflict with the fact that he has liked a post online which referred to another student as a 'scab', and in organising demonstrations encouraged a chant to sing which includes the word 'scab' several times.
Duncan tells us that he "wouldn't call the word scab derogatory", even though the dictionary definition lists the word as such. When asked to justify the use of such a term towards those with different beliefs, Duncan explains "that specific person has tried to undermine the strike. People like that I do get angry at." before laughing and admitting "It is my Facebook, and I should be a bit more cleverer in future if I'm in the public eye. All my posts are public, I should really change that."
When pressed on whether he thinks he could effectively represent the entire student body, as per the role of SU President, he assures us that "If I was president I would never do that. I will act more professional than in my private life."
He explains that "Democracy isn't about representing anyone, its about winning elections and the majority having their will."
"If someone disagrees with my manifesto, they're not going to be represented by me. If you don't think I should be doing grassroots activism and should be talking to Adam Tickell, I'm never going to be representing you. I am never going to meet with Adam Tickell, unless I'm issuing demands."
How do you propose the university will source the money to expand the university guarantor scheme, pay ATs at a Band six pay, fund a counsellor for staff, extend bursaries and fund a sympathetic immigration solicitor?
Duncan's proposal is to "use grassroots activism to secure these deals." He acknowledges that it is unlikely to win these battles in a year, but "the point is we can put these argument across".
As a means of finding a budget for these changes, we are told that at "this university there is a lot of wasteful spending, such as bloated manager salaries. "
Cutting manager salaries would be very difficult, when Duncan asked if Adam Tickell would take a pay cut, "he said he would just leave".
Grassroots activism could lead to more disruption to campus life for students if used as a method to achieve these changes, yet Duncan believes "one of the advertisements of this university is that this is a radical, forward thinking university. I think grassroots activism brings in a lot of people."
Duncan assures us that even non-politically minded student should vote for him, assuring us that "We’d be looking to disrupt management, rather than disrupting students" and that "we’re gonna build a movement which will win them things as well."
With regards to PREVENT (an anti-radicalisation program), what part of the program do you see as problematic?
When explain his feelings about PREVENT, we are told "The thing that I think is actually regressive and causes more problems is the fear it gives students who are from different ethnic minority backgrounds."
"They are being spied on. It makes them aliens, it makes them outsiders and fosters hate."
How do you plan on capping post-grad fees?
Again, Duncan's strategy is that "it will come from the bottom. I have the ability to win these things through grassroots activism. You don't come up with a long term strategy with grassroots activism, but you always find a way to win."
Duncan lets us know that grassroots activism is "how I'll win anything. I'm going to get people on the ground to fight and find ways to win. "
Grassroots activism can be very time-consuming with no indication as to how long the battle will take, yet Duncan is confident that "I don't think I need to prioritise, if my full time job is to organise I can easily have multiple things on the go. I think I can address all of these issues at once. "