Serbian political activist, Srdja Popovic, squares up against representatives of Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, in rectorial debate on Wednesday 11 October – prior to the opening of the polls for university rector on Thursday 12 October.
Complete with red gowns, formal singing and a port and cheese reception, the debate, hosted by the St Andrews Union Debating Society, was the final chance for candidates Srdja Popovic and (the representatives of) Willie Rennie to publicise their manifestos and promote their campaigns.
Srdja Popovic, ex – revolution leader, was one of the students who led the revolution against the Serbian dictator, Milosevic, in the 1990s. He continued on to create CANVAS (The Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies) to aid other oppressed peoples in peaceful activism. Beginning his rebellious career at the age of 18, in university, Srdja is a big advocate for student activism.
Invited to run for rector by student, Jamie Rodney, Srdja admitted that he had little knowledge of St Andrews prior to the invitation – stating that his initial reaction to Jamie’s email was, “Is this guy crazy? Should I speak to him?”.
After recognizing that Jamie was indeed not crazy, Srdja decided to come to St Andrews in an attempt to rally the students around important issues outlined in his (student written) manifesto. The most notable changes include efforts for affordable student accommodation both through the university and private agencies.
Willie Rennie, represented at the debate by students Jack Atkinson and Jake Messel (as he was on holiday with his family) is perhaps the antithesis to Popovic.
Local resident and MSP Rennie is already a well-known politician in St Andrews – a fact that will allegedly improve town and gown relations as Mr. Rennie, “has the luxury of representing us [the university and town] both,” according to his representer, Jack Atkinson.
Rennie’s manifesto emphasises many similar goals to Popovic. Yet, Mr. Atkinson and Messel focused much more on Rennie’s power and influence, as a member of the Scottish parliament, in making real change in St Andrews.
Atkinson specifically mentioned a 100 million pound grant for infrastructure in Scotland that Rennie would help distribute towards Fife and St Andrews – in addition to suggesting that he would have the social capital to encourage private donors and support for such projects.
The debate ended with a democratic vote of who ‘won’. Popovic was the clear winner with 49 votes to Rennie’s 18.
While this election may not be on every students’ radar, the importance of the office, the nature of the candidates, and the exciting events surrounding the election this year did catch the attention of many – evident by the strong opinions shared in lower college hall Wednesday evening.
Rectors of St Andrews have three-year long terms presiding over the University Court – a body responsible for deciding many university issues such as budget and academic policies.
Voting opens at 9 a.m. on Thursday 12 October and closes 5 p.m. on Friday 13 October – visit the union website for more information on the role of the rector, the candidates and rules of the election.