‘This particular rector election cycle has been nothing short of colourful’ says SRC President Ameer Ibrahim, introducing the evening’s proceedings, and he’s not wrong; beginning back in January when we found out no candidates had been nominated, the re-opened nominations saw two globally controversial figures – right-wing pundit and vocal Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos, and Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson, who came under fire recently for his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to students and staff. Other big names include ex-Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable, prominent human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, and Lady Cosgrove, the first female senator of the College of Justice, along with anti-ISIS YPG fighter Brace Belden and four recent Glasgow University graduates.
Milo Yiannopoulos, after much campus speculation, did not turn up in person for hustings, and his team chose not to send a representative. Instead they offered an online Q&A with Yiannopoulos tomorrow evening, presumably as Milo’s anonymous supporters suspect they will fare better on their home turf of the internet. The role of Most Controversial Candidate was then passed to the also-absent Jordan Peterson whose representative made many eye-catching statements, among them that the University’s ‘full stop’ anti-bullying campaign was ‘expensive and a bit silly’, and the mistaken remark that Glasgow University is in England, corrected to ‘Great Britain’, then finally ‘Scotland’, before the representative passed the mic amid astonishment from the audience.
Only four candidates represented themselves in person; Aamer Anwar, Vince Cable, Jonathan Tease and Duncan Logie. All others, aside from Yiannopoulos, sent representatives on their behalf.
Hustings opened with three minute statements from each of the candidates or their representatives, detailing their main manifesto points and broad policy ams if elected. Aamer Anwar was first to speak, and gave a stirring speech about his time at University, including a violent incident of his wrongful arrest when flyering on campus, and emphasised his ability to fight for the interests of students. Vince Cable focused on his role as a former lecturer at Glasgow University and his connections to the institution, as well as his experience as former secretary of state. The representative for Brace Belden gave a statement defending their decision to put forward another absentee rector (one who was ‘fighting in Syria, and otherwise occupied) by emphasising the importance of grassroots-level organisation among students and the strong anti-fascist message Belden’s election would send worldwide. The representative for Lady Cosgrove emphasised her role as a trailblazer for gender equality, the representative for Professor Peterson emphasised free speech on campus, and Jonathan Tease told us about a time he shat himself.
Questions from Ameer were then posed to all the candidates, before opening discussion up to questions from the floor. The representative for Belden chose not to stay to take questions.
The relationship between university management and the student body was a common theme throughout the hustings, particularly the disparity between increasing wages for some senior staff members while funding for student services and unions is being cut. Aamer Anwar was particularly vocal on this subject, remarking that ‘It’s about time the students and the university were an equal partnership’, and particularly singling out principal Anton Muscatelli’s recent pay rise and expenses scandal, saying £10000 for suicide prevention when Muscatelli is staying in the Ritz Carlton is not good enough.‘ Vince Cable responded to this by saying that the salaries of top staff do not represent a large portion of the University’s budget, and that he would work with all departments to see where money could be saved. Cable came under fire throughout the hustings, particularly from recent graduate Jonathan Tease, for his role in the 2010 tuition fee increase, which Cable described as a ‘graduate tax’ but Tease referred to as a ‘graduate debt.’
There was also controversy surrounding Lady Cosgrove’s role as an honorary patron of JNF UK, who have been accused links to the illegal occupation of Palestinian Land in Israel. In response to this, the representative for Lady Cosgrove, Erin Ross, read a statement from Cosgrove issued earlier this week stating that JNF UK are an apolitical organisation unconnected with the state of Israel (JNF UK did split from the JNF in 1999).
Overall, it was a disappointment that only four of the ten candidates showed up in person. While all the representatives were very capable, there were some questions on candidates’ views of affiliations that representatives were inevitably unable to answer, and students were unable to see how the rector candidates themselves would perform in public speaking roles such as the Fresher’s Address. Many of the recent graduates seemed surprisingly adept and well-informed as to what the rector ship involved, particularly Jonathan Tease, whose clashes with Vince Cable seemed to earn the respect of the audience. Anwar, always an impressive public speaker, gave the most rousing speeches of this night, and seems the most committed both to winning the election and fulfilling his promises as rector. In an election that has grabbed headlines with the presence of right-wing reactionaries, the progressive, compassionate, student-focused outlook seemed to be winning among the crowd.