Thomas Hobson, a 16th stable owner, seems an unlikely person to figure in the Students’ Union Elections currently taking place. Yet it is his principle of offering his customers the choice of the nearest horse to the door, or none at all, that gives a curious sense of déjà vu to this year’s campaign. Eight positions on the Students’ Union council this have unopposed candidates running, including the Student Executive positions of Environment and Social Justice Officer and Education, while the position of Black & Minority Ethnic Officer attracted no candidates. Last year eight candidates ran unopposed, with all of them duly beating RON (Reopen Nominations) to earn their positions.
This year has seen a slight increase in multiple people running for Faculty Co-ordinator positions, while Representational Officers and many Executive Officer positions, including President, Activities and Democracy & Communications, have seen a drop in candidate numbers.
It would be unfair to attribute this lack of candidates to the current Executive, who, like the year before, have worked hard to publicise the elections beforehand and extended the candidate submission deadline in an attempt to encourage more people to put themselves forward as candidates.
Perhaps, then, student apathy over Union politics is to blame? It is well known that despite the University of Nottingham’s election turnout being very high compared to many other Universities, that students are largely unengaged and disinterested in the politics of their Union, with many either ignorant of the role that the Executive has in influencing student life or simply uninterested.
This could partly be attributed to the lack of choice in previous years – if there is only one candidate standing, then why bother voting at all? The danger with this train of thought becoming commonplace is that it can only lead to a downward spiral; the fewer candidates that stand for an election, the less engaged the student population feels. At the same time, however, if fewer people vote, then the elected positions are seen as less important and less relevant, therefore less potential candidates are willing to stand. This year, it is also notable that some potential candidates either withdrew their nominations or decided not to run as a result of perceiving that they were up against a ‘big name’ candidate.
Question marks still remain as to the utility of certain positions, such as Faculty Coordinators, while it is likely that the position of Environment and Social Justice will continue to be unpopular as long as it remains an unpaid and non-sabbatical position, as opposed to the other Union Executive positions. The Students’ Union’s ‘Big Review’, which looked into how students engage with the Union, gave this year’s Executive some solid ideas on how to approach their relationship with the Union as a whole, though it didn’t provide much insight into the how each Executive role is relevant to the student population and how students might be incentivised to run for these positions in greater numbers.
Hobson’s Choice is an issue that comes up every year, and one that doesn’t have an immediately obvious solution. The question that remains, however, is whether it is better to have more candidates standing for every position just for the sake of greater democratic choice, or whether it is better to have a limited number, all of whom are passionate about the role they wish to undertake.