Interview: Alan Bissett

alan bisset1)Why should the student body care about the rectorial elections?

Because it means choosing someone who is going to be an effective campaigner for the students’ rights at University Court. No Rector would mean student concerns having less weight behind them at the upper levels of management, which might sound abstract, but there are few students who get through a course anywhere without having some problem with the institution that they’d like addressed. Also, the Rector symbolises how the students like to see themselves and how they will be regarded beyond the university. The Rector is a figurehead, and I’d imagine most students would like a say in who represents them.

2)You expressed concern about the all-male list of rectorial candidates and called for a delay of elections so a female could be nominated in your place. What made you choose to stand after the University refused to co-operate?

I was torn actually. One response would’ve been to say: well, I’m not participating in this all-male race or tacitly endorsing it. But if I’d dropped out it would still have been an all-male selection! I thought that at least if I won I could attempt to change the process to avoid such a male-dominated race in future. Also, I could continue to highlight this issue during the campaign, as this paragraph proves!

3)If you were a student, who would you have nominated as a female candidate?

The journalist, Lesley Riddoch, who is a great intellect and compelling voice on green and social issues.

4)How do you feel about running alongside NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden? Do you think an absent rector can be useful as a political statement?

How do I feel about running alongside Snowden? Intimidated. I mean, the guy has read all my e-mails! But in all seriousness, he’s a real hero for our times. He has shown extraordinary courage and done a great service to humankind. I think a vote for him would be a political statement Glasgow Uni could be proud of. What I would also say though is that after that first flash of media interest has died away, the students would be left without a working Rector, advocating for their rights. It really depends what kind of Rector students want: a symbolic one or an active one.

5)You were nominated by the Glasgow University Yes Society and your recent career has been focussed largely on campaigning for an independent Scotland. Do you plan to bring this political stance into your rectorial role if elected, or keep it separate?

No, I’d keep that particular stance separate. If any student wanted to talk to me about independence, in a public or private forum, I’d be more than happy to do that, but in the main it’s just not relevant to the role. I intend to hold surgeries every three weeks, so if a student comes to me with a problem about, say, overcrowding or lack of facilities, I’m hardly going to ask them whether they intend to vote Yes or No! Besides, the referendum will be over by September and I’d still have two and a half years of the post to run. So for most of the time I was Rector it would just not be an issue.

6)Could you tell us a bit about the Conflict Free Campus Initiative and why you want to support it?

Yes, it was initiated by Amnesty International and is about ensuring that minerals used in computers on campus are not sourced from Congo, where atrocities are being committed in a fight for access to natural resources. Dozens of American and British universities have signed up to the pledge, and I feel Glasgow should be one of them. It wouldn’t mean junking the university’s existing computers, but sourcing in future from ethical electronics suppliers.

7)The Facebook page set up to promote your campaign states that you will “run on a platform of reining in senior management pay, promoting gender equality on campus and upholding the rights of immigrant and refugee students.” If elected, what will be your first action towards the egalitarian campus outlined here?

The very first action would be to push for greater gender balance on the university’s board. I think that symbol would go some way to changing the way people perceive Glasgow University – ie. somewhere that sexism has been allowed to flourish. I’ve spoken to the GUU and they are already active about changing the culture there. Their board is now 50% female, and is chaired by a woman. If the students can make that change I see no reason why the upper management can’t.

8)What is your fondest memory of teaching in the University’s Creative Writing department?

Every year the students would publish an anthology of their writing, which had high production values and was reviewed in the national press. The annual launch of this book was very exciting, as it was often the first time students had exposed their writing to the wider world. It made their ambitions feel more real and tangible and sometimes led to individual book deals further down the line. It was great to be involved in something like that, and if appointed Rector I’d attempt to support students arts projects – like open mic nights, publications, film-making – wherever I could.

9)Finally, tell qmunicate why we should vote Bissett in five words or less.

Committted. Optimistic. Active. Great shoes.

[Ellen MacAskill]

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