With a gaggle of student presidential campaigns due to take flight in the next few weeks, The Journal would like to offer some well-intentioned advice to Edinburgh's student union leaders in waiting. An aspiring politician on the verge of heading to the hustings would do well to pocket a few savvy truisms if they wish to impress rather than depress their electorate. And who better to turn to for pithy counsel in the week of Burns Night than Scotland’s favourite son himself?
Rabbie Burns might warn those tempted to build a flamboyant election platform based on a mirage of lofty promises to steer clear of such rhetoric. Instead, the Bard might say, pursue a campaign of balanced composure and subtle understatement - after all, "prudent, cautious self-control is wisdom's root." And should you doubt the wisdom of our 18th century idol, spare a thought for the Liberal Democrats' present predicament, as they face a vicious backlash from the electorate for failing to deliver on so many of their honey-glazed pledges.
Burns would similarly advise the meticulous presidential campaigners who choose to wrap themselves in an intricate web of tactics and stratagem to take an approach of prepared flexibility as even "the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men often go awry." Moreover, to those counting too readily on the backing of others - perhaps their elected predecessors? - to further their chances of electoral success, it seems the Ploughman Poet would offer only scolding condemnation, "for how wretched is the person who hangs on by the favours of the powerful."
But the most important lesson any student politician can learn from Burns would be to remember that these elections are contests to represent a union, not a parliament. Candidates are seeking office in student bodies which derive their strength from their solidarity - and by the same token, which find vulnerability in division. Burns would lampoon any mudslinging contest, desiring instead that candidates trust in their opponents, however galling their policies may seem. After all, to Burns "suspicion is a heavy armour and with its weight it impedes more than it protects."