Last July, shortly after starting my term as vice-president services at Edinburgh University Students’ Association, I was suspended from my job. Following my return to office 10 weeks later, I knew that the correct thing to do was what I now intend to do with this article: to clearly explain to the student body who elected me the actions I took, so that they may hold me to account if they so wish. At that point, however, I just wanted to keep my head down and get on with my job; I didn’t want the rest of my term to become a running battle over something that I could no longer change. I can only apologise for not having done this sooner; you be surprised by how much pressure I’ve come under to keep this whole affair quiet.
EUSA is a very strange contradiction: an organisation purporting to be democratic and transparent but operating under a legal and market framework which explicitly constrains those two ideals. When a sabbatical officer’s political ideals conflict with the strict requirements forced upon them by charity law, employment law and a market economy, you are presented with a uniquely difficult decision: do you remain true to your principles, and thus expose yourself to legal and HR action?
EUSA recently sought and received an interdict against The Student newspaper from the Court of Session in Edinburgh, to prevent the publication of an article about me. However, the interdict wasn’t sought in order to protect me. The Court of Session isn’t in the business of protecting student sabbatical officers’ reputations. The article violated the privacy of a large number of EUSA staff, breached our employment regulations — thereby threatening our staff’s rights — and it was exceptionally likely that both The Student and EUSA would face legal action as a result of its publication. I have no doubt in my mind that taking legal action was the correct decision — although I disagree with the scope and scale of the order EUSA asked for.
Holding a sabbatical to account for their actions is one of the most important roles of a student newspaper on campus. Anything which threatens their ability to do so should be decried, but this commitment should not come at the expense of the rights of our staff. The article The Student wished to publish was an attack on the rights of our staff to improve their working conditions. I hope that my being open here about my actions will mean that we can focus on holding me to account, and leave our staff out of it.
Before taking office, I published a number of tweets from my personal Twitter account which included the phrase “fuck old people”. I wrote these tweets out of frustration with the brutal economic attacks being made on our generation; attacks which deny us the same level of social support enjoyed by generations older than ourselves, and which force us to compete ever more fiercely against one another. I don’t say this in order to excuse what I wrote; those tweets were inappropriate, immature and offensive and I should never have written them. I say this merely to explain and hopefully to allow you to understand that my tweets were ageist in substance but not in essence.
Furthermore, while suspended last summer I published an anonymous guest post to my official EUSA blog alleging unsafe working conditions and sexual harassment in festival venues in Edinburgh. This was interpreted to have been written by a EUSA employee, and caused a significant debate about whether or not the post’s allegations were fair, with a number of EUSA staff members both attacking and defending the blog post in the pages of The Journal. I didn’t intend for that blog post to have been interpreted as being about EUSA, but rather had aimed to highlight what I perceived to be a serious problem facing Edinburgh University students.
I hope that by going public with this, we can begin to put it behind us. I hope that the student body can appreciate that I will likely face repercussions simply for addressing this matter publicly, and I hope that we can remember that, while it’s fair game to hold me to account as an elected representative, our staff have a right to privacy which should be respected.