Earlier today the students of Glasgow University elected renowned U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden as their new rector. He successfully beat the other three candidates, Kelvin Holdsworth, Graeme Obree and Alan Bissett to win the election. All this in spite of the fact that he never took part in the hustings. All this in spite of the fact that his campaign admitted that he would not be a working rector. All this in spite of the fact that his campaign admitted that the only reason to vote for Snowden was nothing more than “a unique opportunity to show...support for the US whistleblower.”
As might be surmised from my earlier blog on ineffectual strikes, I despise symbolism without effect. Electing Edward Snowden as our rector has achieved absolutely nothing but ineffectual symbolism, the impact of which will be lost after three days when it fades from the national news. For the next three years, we will have a rector who will not be able to hold surgeries, does not know a thing about the unique issues that affect students at Glasgow University, and will be utterly unable to represent his electors. All the campaign to elect Snowden has achieved is to reinforce Glasgow University’s reputation as “edgy” and anti-establishment.
It didn’t need to be this way. In fact, Snowden only picked up 48% of the vote: thus, more students actually voted for a working rector than they did for an absentee symbol. Alan Bissett, my personal first choice, produced an eminently sensible policy platform: he promised to improve gender equality on campus, campaign against zero-hour contracts at Glasgow University, and most importantly given the current strikes, to pressure the senior management to show restraint in their salaries. He was a liberal lefty student’s dream!
Graeme Obree and Kelvin Holdsworth both promised to be excellent promoters of LGBT rights on campus. Obree also promised to promote awareness of mental health issues. They both promised to seek solutions to the increasing problem of overcrowding both on campus and in student flats, something that senior management has repeatedly failed to deal with. Both promised to sort out timetabling issues that have led to lectures being scheduled on Wednesday afternoons traditionally reserved for sport. We could have voted for any of these three men, and in doing so, both registered our dissatisfaction at the current state of affairs at Glasgow University, and elected someone with the willingness and means to do something about it.
But no. We chose to squander our democratic rights voting for a symbol with no influence. Snowden cannot do a thing for us. We had a chance to make grievances we have about the current management heard, and we didn’t take it. If we refuse to stand up for what we want through voting for it, then we do not deserve to get what we want. Thus, we don’t need an ineffectual, unrepresentative, out-of-touch rector like Edward Snowden, but if we are unprepared to vote for something other than that, then he is certainly the sort of rector we deserve.