Tuesday 28-04-2015 - 17:52
We asked Gary Paterson, President at the University of Strathclyde Students' Association to chat all things General Election with us ahead of voting day on 7 May 2015.
1) What has your SA been up to ahead of the General Election?
USSA has been working with some of our closest student unions including City of Glasgow’s students' association, SAUWS, the University of Glasgow’s SRC and GCUSA as part of the Glasgow Student Forum to produce the Glasgow Student Manifesto. We researched what our students wanted from candidates in the upcoming election and now we’re putting it to the candidates asking them to sign up.
Asking students what they wanted from the next government was a great way to get students excited about the election and to convince them to register to vote. We’ve been getting students registered to vote on campus and now we’re using the Glasgow Student Manifesto to build momentum for the student vote right across Glasgow. There are over 70,000 students across Glasgow and we want to make sure their voices are heard by candidates making promises in the run up to May 7th.
2) Thoughts on the TV debates and media coverage so far?
It's incredibly refreshing to see political diversity in our political system; The TV debates have shown that the old way of doing politics is over – the two party system simply cannot survive the newly engaged electorate and students, especially students in Scotland, are a huge part of that. Scotland has been hitting the headlines time and again with a real sense that so many previously safe Labour and Liberal Democrat seats in our constituencies are now predicted to shift to different parties most notably the SNP. The TV debates have shown the more left wing policies of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party are incredibly popular and their female leaders have taken control of the debates in ways that are much more impressive than the pale, male and stale status quo of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, and UKIP.
However, generally I am rather concerned that students are not at the centre of these discussions about the future. The focus on immigration and austerity is damaging for students and our nation, and we need an explosive change so that our country is not driven solely by the agenda of one party or group.
3) One message for any student thinking of doing a Russell Brand on the day?
We have all been frustrated with politics, but that’s precisely why I am involved in making change. If everyone who felt that the austerity-establishment parties voted for a real alternative we would see a change even more drastic than we are now!
35% of the population didn’t vote in the last general election – that’s more people than voted for any single political party. Without their votes they completely lost the opportunity to say what they wanted from their society. We know that voting does make a difference and students going out to vote in their thousands can be that difference. The problem with Russell Brand’s view is that no one knows why you don’t vote – they don’t know that it’s a protest or that you stand for a better way of doing politics. Spoiling your vote would be a more effective protest or getting involved in a party and making it better. In this new multi-party system you could form your own party.
For many students across the UK it’s our first vote, while for many students and young people in Scotland this vote comes just months after a hugely engaging democratic event in our lifetimes – the independence referendum. Regardless of how you voted in that there is no denying that voting made a difference. Sometimes it’s tempting to give up because politicians aren’t listening but we are seeing, as we have in previous decades, that it’s much more powerful when students make themselves a force that politicians feel they need to cater to, that doesn’t happen if we don’t vote. It’s time for politicians that have been voting against student priorities during their time in office to fear the student vote preventing them getting back in.
4) What would be your dream way of getting to the polls – growing Red Bull wings and flying? Batmobile? On horseback?
My main dream is seeing students getting to the polls and voting for real change, students voting en masse is an inspiring sight and should put the fear and thought into our politicians.
5) How will you be celebrating/commiserating the result on May 8th?
We won’t be sitting long because we'll be straight into discussions about the Scottish elections, student unions in Scotland are keen to hear the post-referendum visions for a fairer Scotland, and we won’t be an observer!