Manifesto analysis: Sarah Thompson for AU president

In her manifesto’s very opening line, Sarah Thompson emphasizes the importance of “continuity” in the role of AU president. The synonymous terms of “stability” and “consistency” are, she says, “more important than ever” at a time when the Sports Centre redevelopments are only just beginning to gather speed. It is noticeable that she doesn’t go into any detail regarding the precise nature of her role in the redevelopment in her manifesto (although in a recent Bubble TV interview regarding her candidature, she states she occupies a position on the redevelopment council’s board). Yet as someone who has helped oversee the redevelopment plans since their very incarnation without any real hitches, it doesn’t seem too much of a leap of faith to trust her evident conviction.

The second thing she chooses to emphasize is, relatedly, her “experience” in the role, describing it as “one of my biggest strengths”. There is a strong message throughout the manifesto that Ms Thompson conceives the achievements of her first year in the role as unfinished business, describing them as “strong foundations upon which I will continue to build”. Accordingly, she chooses to explicate what she considers her main achievements in the past year. These include “formalizing alumni relations” – for the sake of generating both funds and nostalgia – as well as “increasing communication within Saints Sport”, “forming strong relationships with the Students’ Association”, and above all, “increasing participation in student sport”.

It is this final topic; increasing student participation and general engagement with sport; that represents the cornerstone of her campaign this time round (and serves to further evidence her belief in continuity). She lists several targets for the upcoming twelve months relating to this issue, the first of which is “making the AU more accessible to students”. To this end, she proposes to create a “Saints Sport Guide” for new committees; something she says will comprise “an introduction to the people and processes of the AU”. She accordingly admits – with admirable frankness – that an increased understanding of AU processes will mean she has “more time” for the students and clubs that comprise it. In other words, it is in the interests of individual clubs to increase their understanding of the very organization which binds them together. In this way, Ms Thompson’s proposed ‘Saints Sport Guide’ sounds like a very savvy way of further consolidating the Saints Sport brand – something which can only benefit sport as a whole in St Andrews.

Further, just as Ms Thompson wants individual clubs to gain an increased understanding of the AU, so she herself pledges to gain an increased understanding of individual clubs. Specifically, she intends to “visit every club in the first few weeks of (next) semester to learn more about each club and its members and to strengthen relationships as early as possible”. For Thompson, then, the relationship between the AU and individual clubs is one of mutual dependency. As her manifesto seems to imply, the AU should not be some sort of overarching, all-powerful body under which clubs are subsumed, but rather, the glue that binds them together. A conception of the AU which, on the face of it, seems very healthy.

The manifesto’s final two proposals cover two rather more concrete issues: academic flexibility, and transport. Regarding the former, she pledges “to review and update” the academic flexibility policy to account for the increased participation in sport across the university. Presumably – it is not made clear – this basically means students will be given increased time off where sport may clash. Given that academic work is ultimately why the university exists at all, it is disappointing that Ms Thompson does not explain what she means by this. To what extent will students be forced to miss lectures for the sake of sport, or miss sport for the sake of lectures? Thompson simply doesn’t say.

Regarding the latter topic of transport, Ms Thompson says she will “overhaul the way we provide transport so that we can provide a service that meets the demand of our student clubs”. Where many clubs lack consistent means of attending fixtures, such an issue is crucial, especially given the geographically scattered nature of BUCS leagues in Scotland. Again, however, she does not say how she intends to do this; unsatisfying for anyone concerned.

Overall, then, the manifesto is very promising in many ways, but mystifyingly unclear in others. It is conspicuous that Ms Thompson does not explain how she intends to realize several of her major aims. Admittedly, given that she is that only candidate for AU president this year, her brevity is perhaps understandable. But nevertheless, it is hardly satisfying for anyone involved with sport at St Andrews – that’s half the entire student population, not including casual sport – to be somewhat left in the dark. That said, though, her student-focused ideal of sport for all remains hugely admirable, and is impossible not to endorse. In the final analysis, then, a bright future for the AU under Thompson will always seem likely with such an ideal underpinning her presidency.

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