Glasgow University hasn’t been short of dramatic events over 2011. This includes a march of over 3,000 students against course cuts, a major police operation attempting to evict a student occupation which was successfully opposed by hundreds of student protestors, and a tight election for the Student Representative Council (SRC) presidency which saw the Left come within a couple of hundred votes of winning. The situation has now developed to the point where the victor of that election, Stuart Ritchie, has been forced to resign only months into the first semester.
Despite being the clear right wing candidate at the election Ritchie was forced to promise he would oppose fees and course cuts at the University. The contradictions inherent in his presidency were shown when as incumbent president he called for the “firebombing” of the occupiers of the Hetherington Research Club when police were attempting their botched eviction. This became even clearer when he urged students to attend the Scottish Trade Union Congress protest march against government cuts on October 1st yet did not himself attend.
His position became untenable after Glasgow Uni announced that it planned to charge Rest of UK students what amounts to £26,000 over four years for a degree following the Scottish Government’s decision to permit Scottish universities to charge fees of up to £9,000 a year. This had led to both Edinburgh and St Andrews deciding to charge Rest of UK students annual fees of £9,000 – keep in mind arts degrees at Scottish Universities are four years, not three - the most costly degree of any of the universities in Britain. Despite outwardly condemning the fees, it soon emerged Ritchie had been arguing for the “9K position” following a Freedom of Information request from one of the student magazines at Glasgow, QMunicate.( http://qmunicate.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/gusrc-president-didnt-fight-for-lower-ruk-fees/) That is to say he argued for three years of £9,000 and a free fourth year as opposed to £6,750 and a £1,000 rebate that the Senior Management Group argued for. Our supposedly anti-fees president was therefore supporting Rest of UK students paying £1,000 more than management!
As if to only make matters worse he attempted to justify this by stating if management’s strategy was adopted “in a cost table we would appear miles down the list.” That is to say in effect he not only was for allowing but indeed actively promoting the very commercialisation and commodification of our education he was elected to oppose!
The reaction to this revelation was swift. Amidst mounting student pressure and anger the main anti-cuts organisation on campus, Glasgow University Coalition of Resistance, moved very quickly and in just three days were able to gather 576 signatures, well over the number needed to force an Emergency General meeting of the SRC to consider a no confidence motion in Ritchie. Adding to his problems was the fact that he had spent the first week of his reign as president on holiday in San Tropez and allegedly bought an Ipad with SRC funds. The truth of this latter claim remains to be established but it was readily believed by many students who understandably associated Ritchie with the cretinism of the MPs expenses scandal and other career politicians.
The SRC had called an open meeting for Ritchie to answer these allegations. It was due to take place on Wednesday November 2nd but seemingly he couldn’t face the music of potentially hundreds of angry students attending and calling for him to go. As a result the meeting was cancelled and an SRC statement put out declaring Ritchie’s resignation.
Ritchie will not be missed by students at Glasgow Uni, especially the increasing number that want to take action to protect education from the vicious assault that’s being mounted on it at all levels. It’s important we note Ritchie was forced to leave over the issue of fees for Rest of UK students. Scottish students know that the battle doesn’t end with our brothers and sisters from down south but that in the long run they will also attack our right to a free education. Ritchie was punished for actively collaborating with management to give up the first major line of this battle in Scotland. Robin Harper of the Scottish NUS labelled him “a president who thinks he’s untouchable and entirely unaccountable to his own students.”
But the battle does not end here. I’m in no doubt we join most students at Glasgow in saying good riddance to bad rubbish. However it’s vital that the politics Ritchie stood for go with him. It remains unclear as to whether an election will take place to replace him as president; it looks for now as if the SRC Executive Council will simply continue without him with the vice president assuming his role. We demand the SRC call an election to replace him as no member of the Exec has a presidential mandate. The good work of student activists and the results of the left around James Foley’s candidacy earlier this year demonstrate the possibility of a victory in the upcoming elections. What is needed from such an election is a concerted campaign by activists to win students to a militant anti-cuts programme and to create a fighting student union. As Marxists we understand that austerity can only be defeated by the mass mobilisation of the youth and the working class to overthrow capitalism and replace it with a socialist plan of production.
We continue to demand the SRC keep its promises to oppose fees and cuts. The student union is the elected leadership of the student movement and must appeal to and mobilise the student body to oppose cuts and fees and support workers, particularly those at our own university but also beyond, in struggle against such measures.