Yesterday I spoke to the Presidential candidates, Aron McGill and Ceinwen Cloney about their thoughts on what is turning into one of the most contentious and exciting election weeks to date.
For me, there was only one place to start, and that was the Harry Noden affair which has overshadowed the last ten days of campaigns. I asked both candidates whether they felt the situation had affected their campaigns at all, and in what ways.
Aron told me that ‘It makes things more difficult, you have to worry about comments you’ve made which may seem insulting out of context’, Referring to some of Noden’s tweets which caused him to withdraw from the election. However, Aron was quick to discredit the controversial material, saying ‘Noden’s tweets were unacceptable.’ When asked whether he thought the loss of a candidate would benefit him, Aron indicated that he didn’t think so. ‘You get votes from running a good campaign.’ He said, before adding ‘It’s better to have three candidates running, it’s more competitive than two.’
Asked the same question, Ceinwen said that it made a huge impact, and her ‘perception of elections and the election week has changed entirely in the aftermath of what can only be described as an undeserved and unwarranted smear campaign.‘ She went on to speak about Harry Noden specifically, saying ‘The treatment he has received is, in my opinion, appalling and entirely not in the spirit of the elections or the union. We are an inclusive organisation and I would much prefer to run an election and have a outcome based on merit, rather than have an election shrouded in such controversy.’
Following the smear campaign, Ceinwen put an official statement on her Facebook page.
Ceinwen did have a word to say on social media candidates, saying ‘While I do not in any way condone the contents of his twitter feed I do think we all need to remember that this isn’t a national election and that we don’t have any form of pre elections training to help us deal with situations like these, perhaps it is something the union will take into account in the future.’
I asked SUSU Voice Co-ordinator and Assistant Returning Officer, Matthew Hurst about this, who said ‘We are looking at ways to improve candidates training and the introductions this year I believe have been a start but we are open to further developing what is already in place’
Both candidates wanted to make it clear that they were in no way involved with, or responsible for, the smear campaign, and were saddened by the targeting and subsequent loss of a candidate.
Aron’s manifesto has a lot of focus on liberation issues, which have become part of the Presidential role due to the absence of the Women’s and International Officer positions. I asked him why liberation was such an important issue for him, to which Aron explained that he grew up in Northern Ireland and London. ‘it’s two entirely different environments.’, he says. ‘In Ireland, I was the only mixed-race kid in a town of about 10,000 people. When I lived there wasn’t so much rampant racism, just ignorance. London was a lot better, but a lot worse in a some ways. Where I lived in Brent, a lot of the immigrant community felt quite uncomfortable and insular. I went to Indian private school and from that I’ve learned that International communities do a lot right with integration. I wanted to bring some of these successes to Swansea, and to make it a more open and welcoming place.’
Aron discussed his contempt for discrimination, saying ‘I feel particularly strongly about the neo-Nazi marches in Swansea. It breeds fear and it isn’t a community I want to be part of.’ Aron wants to help improve the Swansea community by introducing more cultural events in Swansea, including a year-long celebration of student culture, which would conclude with an event of a similar size to the Summer Ball.
Ceinwen’s manifesto focuses on the alliterative slogan ‘Review’, ‘Revive’ and ‘Restore’, hoping to make the Students’ Union more accessible and relevant to all students, not just those within the Union fold. This is an idea that many candidates have run with, and met with limited success. I asked Ceinwen whether she thought she would succeed where others have failed, to which she responded ‘Yes, it might be slow progress and I’m not promising that it’ll be perfect by the end of the year but if we don’t get an improved model of inclusive, wide and varied student engagement options in place before the second campus we will be in an even worse situation.’
She discussed the ‘5 to 7’ consultation, and said that she has gained some ideas from it, ‘The democracy review conducted by NUS in November wasn’t particularly to do with officer positions as previously thought, instead the outcomes throw up interesting, new and innovative ways to engage students across the board and also provided information on how other universities operate their democratic structures across two campuses.’ She has indicated that she hopes to use some of these new ideas in order to ‘breed a new union culture that allows accessibility, transparency and understanding.’
Who will win the position of President for 2014-15?
When asked what they have planned for the week, Aron indicated that he would do his best not to be intrusive, but will be getting his name out and ‘making [himself] known with leaflets and lecture shout-outs’. He also wants to get his banner sorted. Ceinwen has ‘a few cheeky videos to come’ as well as being on the mall, at the village, in flux and online doing my own question time on the website!’ She hopes to engage with and inspire voters ‘that may not consider themselves part of the union.’
Voting is open online now and will be until 5pm Friday.
By Laurence Atkinson