The Saint Elections Team breakdown the manifestos of the candidates running for Student Association President.
Candidate: Juan Pablo Rodriguez
Mr Rodrigez is championing a sound track-record as he vies for another term, campaigning on familiarity with the pulpit and strides in reducing student intake, expanding bus discounts and services, and implementing protected wages for Student Association staff. After a year on the job, he has slimmed down his promises, suggesting – with a tone of realism that this newspaper has praised – that he will focus only on goals that he believes are “achievable.” But like many before him, he has done little to raise awareness for student elections and government, and his vision suffers from a narrow focus. A dose of realism makes for sound leadership. But with students apathetic to student government, and many unaware that elections are even happening, passion should be embraced – not pauperized as a pipe dream.
Accommodation Despite his slender efforts to address the University’s housing crisis, Mr Rodrigez shines for a single success: a reduction in the intake of students and stabilisation of student numbers at 10,000 until at least 2031. As the University’s applicant pool grows, that victory should help prevent an even greater strain on housing demand. Mr Rodriguez has otherwise made some minor accomplishments, like bolstering accommodation awards, student hall budgets, self-catered hall options, and accommodation bookkeeping. He has also advocated for the revision of an HMO ban policy. The president cannot address the housing crisis in a single stroke But it is disappointing that his manifesto fails to indicate more plans for the future. Students' wallets are pressed. Many have still scramble for housing in the outskirts of Fife and neighbouring Dundee. The moment calls for zeal and pressure, not a Machiavellian playbook bogged down by cynicism.
Mr Rodriguez has made some strong progress to increase accessibility, including by implementing a new Dundee night bus and a 75 per cent discount for certain bus travel. He has also reached an agreement to sell student-designed products in the University Shop and implemented in-person office hours across halls. Those are laudable labours. His other aims have had a regrettably narrow focus. His plan to “build bridges” with a leading Latin American University seems tokenistic, and it is unclear why a personal presidential phone number has been made a priority. While he pledges to launch a campaign to lobby the Scottish Government to increase support for Scottish students, he offers little notion of how he will temper the high cost of living. He instead devotes undue attention to improving volunteering services and representing student association staff. His vision to make the Students’ Association and its elections more visible, among other pledges, require explaining. More enthusiasm and a wider focus please, Mr Rodriguez.
Mr Rodriguez has commendably advocated for a National Living Wage Among casual staff in the Students Association. But other bits of his advocacy record raise questions. With vague promises of a “greater impact,” he has abandoned plans to devote part of his stipend to create a scholarship, deciding instead to fundraise for students experiencing financial hardship. It is admirable that Mr Rodridguez supported the organisation of a vigil for Iran in October, but why does he omit support for other vigils, like those for Brianna Ghey or Holocaust Remembrance Day? He has rightly pledged to fight for Real Wage Employer status in the Students’ Association. But has few other parcels of promise. This newspaper prescribes Mr Rodriguez a healthy dose of passion to help him fit the moment.
Candidate: Stella Maris
At the time this publication was sent to print, Ms Maris had not yet provided a full version of her manifesto. As such, this analysis is incomplete. The Saint encourages you to seek out the full version of her manifesto, scheduled to be published following our print date.
In an abridged version of her manifesto, Stella Maris has made clear what issues will mark her presidency if elected. Ms Maris has prior experience as Rector’s Assessor, a role which requires a profound understanding of how to enact change and influence higher-ups in a University-context. In other words, Ms Maris certainly has the practical background to successfully accomplish the goals she puts forward. Due to the dearth of actionable steps in her draft manifesto, however, it is hard to say properly weigh out the feasibility of her plans.
Ms Maris has stated that she will work with the accommodation subcommittee and student representatives in halls of residence to restructure the hall committee system, pushing for transparency and accountability. The impact this will have on the housing crisis is vague. Further, she aims to develop a transparent strategy that provides the student with resources to enable them to hold the University accountable on the provision of accommodation in town. While Ms Maris is evidently keenly aware as to where the concerns of the student body lie, placing some of the weight on the students may not be a popular strategy.
The student voice would be at the heart of a Maris presidency. She places combatting student poverty and improving well-being as a chief concern. While it is helpful to know where her priorities lie, it is hard to make judgement as to the feasibility of these plans without her full manifesto.
Ms Maris, in an effort to counter eco-anxiety, centres climate conscious behaviour change at the University on her list of priorities. As a University with an environmentally conscious student body, this will certainly be a popular platform to run on. Ms Maris has also acknowledged the international nature of our student body. She highlights the importance of ensuring students from diverse sets of cultural backgrounds have access to modes of expressing these in this coastal town. What exactly this includes is uncertain, though perhaps her manifesto may elucidate this point further.
Ms Maris undeniably has the experience necessary to lead as Student Association president. Incredibly qualified and certainly capable, she certainly has her finger on the pulse of student needs. That said, what policy changes she plans to implement remain to be seen and, as such, it is difficult to deduce Ms Maris’ efficacy.
Candidate: Barry Will
Mr Barry Will presents an impressively ambitious manifesto that aims to place students at the core of university democracy. His experience as Director of CASH, and founder of the local branch of the Scottish tenant union Living Rent has given him ample insight into the state of the housing crisis. Taking significant steps towards resolving these accommodation issues is at the heart of his manifesto, promising to pressure the University and Fife council into committing to concrete action. Combined with his proposed strategies to reform the union into a radical vehicle for change, Mr Will’s manifesto presents a clear and exciting vision, something which has been lost in previous years where student politics has been characterised by vagaries and capitulation to University demands. Whilst admirable, whether Mr Will’s goals are achievable within a one-year presidency is debatable — established University frameworks will be difficult to dismantle or out-manoeuvre. That said, at a time where passion for student politics is lacking, Mr Will presents a clear remedy for the monotonous state of Union advocacy.
Mr Will takes a holistic, practical, and aspirational approach to housing action. There are five parts to his plan: address the HMO ban, stop rent increases in halls, campaign against holiday-lets, and pressure the University to create more affordable University accommodation. The steps proposed to achieve these goals are underpinned by Mr Will’s vast experience in the area. Having already led several successful housing campaigns, the Union would largely benefit from both Mr Will’s deep insight into the St Andrews housing crisis, and the strides he has already accomplished. Mr Will is not ignorant of the potential challenges he will have to face in order to execute his proposals. However, he seeks to overcome this by enlisting a large network of student organisations to add greater pressure to these demands. His accommodation plans might seem idealistic, but perhaps this is no bad thing.
Mr Will’s approach to ensuring greater accessibility is multi-faceted, focussing on the barriers to education posed by the cost-of-living crisis and limited support for students coming from less economically-privileged backgrounds. His proposals to institute a free breakfast club and provide 50p coffees alongside £1 meals will certainly prove popular. Yet, the feasibility of such proposals should perhaps be questioned — how they will be subsidised necessitates further enquiry. Even if the University does have the funds to support these proposals, whether they will be willing to utilise these remains to be seen. Forums and student feedback form a cornerstone of Mr Will’s plans as Association President. Implementing this type of personal and continued consultation would be a welcome addition for a student population that feels largely out-of-touch with their student representatives. Mr Will suggests improving visibility of the Association President by conducting informal feedback sessions by setting up a stall on market street. Such a solution is imaginative, yet simple. It fundamentally demonstrates Mr Will’s deep passion and commitment to improving the student experience at all levels.
“Power to the Students!” It is this slogan within Mr Will’s manifesto that encapsulates his approach to activism. Having already led a number of successful student campaigns, Mr Will seeks to empower students to push for real change within their community. How he will achieve this is clearly outlined through his promises to enhance communication from Sabbs through streamlining email announcements, and inspire students to actively campaign for the issues they feel passionate about. Mr Will’s ability to achieve this latter point is evident through his active organisation and participation in a wide range of projects — his drive will surely translate to the students he seeks to represent. Further, Mr Will proposes progressive steps towards addressing the climate crisis. His suggestion to introduce a compulsory climate crisis module at the matriculation stage could be seen as tokenistic — the tangible impact this would have may be limited. On the other hand, transitioning towards plant-based University food services would no-doubt have a positive environmental impact. However, whether this is universally desired is debatable — a vote should perhaps be conducted prior to implementing a reform that would impact students’ everyday experiences so drastically.