Rectorial Election – Glasgow University

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been a candidate in the elections to choose a Rector for the University of Glasgow. The position of Rector in the older universities in Scotland is a venerable tradition. The students get to elect the person who chairs the University Court and acts as their representative at the highest level of the University when decisions are being made that affect the future planning of the life of the University.

It is a great idea – the primary users of the University getting a strong say in what happens to it.

I was asked to run by a student, Alan McManus who became my campaign manager for the whole experience. I’m hugely grateful to Alan for all this. His relentless encouragement and good humour were what got me into this and they have never wavered. It has been a joy to be on the university campus (which is close to St Mary’s) and spend some time getting to know it and meeting people up there. I think that in the last few weeks I will have met about 1250 people – some of them wanting to engage me pretty deeply with their concerns and some of them just so that I could give a cheery reminder to them to vote.

In the end, I was placed second and was very pleased at the number of votes that were cast for me. It was the highest turn-out in a student election in many years.

The winner of the election was Edward Snowdon, the former NSA contractor and whistle-blower who is currently on the run from the American authorities.

In many ways the election was decided by the nomination of Mr Snowdon, who won’t be able to take up the post and won’t be able to represent students at all. Once his nomination was in, it was all that the media were interested in.

One of the things I’ve learned is that we must guard the rules which attempt to prevent biased reporting at elections in the UK. Standing in an election and seeing, whenever it is reported, that it is reported as being only about one candidate is dispiriting and makes you realise how hard it must be to campaign in places where the media can do what they like.

I’ve also been reminded of how much I enjoy campaigning and how much life it gives me. It is no coincidence that the sermon that I preached on Sunday, right at the height of the campaign, was one that people have told me will stay in their minds for some time. I come alive in the heat of battle and that rubs off onto other areas of my life.

With regards to the actual result, I’m very pleased that the issues that I raised during the campaign, which were all student issues really, did have a resonance with those who voted. There were three of us who were campaigning to become Rector on a “working Rector” ticket and I was pleased to be placed at the top of the list of those of us who would have turned up to do the job. In the end there was a reasonable vote for all of us. Graeme Obree, the cyclist is obviously a hero to many and was strongly supported by campaigners from the Sports Association. I was surprised in a way that the Yes campaign was not able to muster more votes for Alan Bissett who came fourth – he was a good candidate who was strongly engaged with the students when I met him. The Yes campaign doesn’t seem to me to be doing as well with young people as I’m sure some people think it is, which will make the independence vote later this year all the more interesting.

Any of the three of us who stood on the working Rector ticket would have been willing to turn up and work for the students of the University of Glasgow. Both Graeme Obree and Alan Bissett have been good-hearted candidates and there has been a spirit of very friendly rivalry between us. In that sense it has been a very happy election campaign. I think we were all disappointed though that now the job won’t get done and students won’t be represented in the way they could have been.

Finally, I’ve been interested in the students’ reaction to a priest running in an election on campus. I was expecting a certain amount of negativity about that. In the end only one person ever raised that issue with me in all the campaign – a mature student who is a member of the diocese who told me she didn’t think people would vote for me because I was a member of the clergy. In fact, I think I’ve learned that students are willing to vote for someone who articulates clearly values that they respect and which they think to be good. Gender politics and LGBT issues played strongly in this election. It is clear to me that if churches want to appeal to the vast majority of younger people then they need to articulate and argue very strongly for progressive values and equal rights in both those areas. There will always be a niche for those articulating that women should be less than equal to men and working against gay rights but, thank God, that niche is shrinking quickly as the years go by.

So, I’d like to thank all those who supported me. It has been a lot of fun to run for this post. I hope that the University of Glasgow flourishes and prospers.

I’ve just heard that Edward Snowden has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Guess that one isn’t going my way this year either.