I had a slightly one-sided mini-conversation with someone last night which perfectly highlighted the side of elections that makes me want to cry.
I spotted a friend-of-a-friend while I was out who I've never spoken to before. Tapping her on the shoulder, I opened with "You're so-and-so's friend aren't you?"
She replied with, "Don't bother trying to get me to vote for you; I've already promised my vote to because he's a friend of mine". Oh! Righty-ho then...
The thing about that exchange that really depresses me is how some people are prepared to vote for a candidate because they're friends rather than taking the time to read the manifestos, maybe come to hustings, or even hold back on making a decision until the campaigning week when the candidates are out and about and can be stopped in the street for a chat.
The outcome of this is that, in Students' Unions across the country, there are always people involved with the Unions who have a horror story about a candidate winning an election who simply wasn't up to the job, despite an arguably better candidate running.
The reason for these horror stories is exactly the same reason why involvement in Students' Unions country-wide is lower than you might otherwise expect - pure, unabashed apathy.
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not for a second suggesting students "don't care". The problem is that, from the day of enrolment, students are bombarded with information, leaflets, people telling them what they should and shouldn't do, and lecturers telling them their worlds will end if they don't spend every waking hour studying or in said lecturer's lectures.
In the face of this, it's not hard to understand why students don't find themselves too concerned about getting involved with their Unions. I know a lot of friends who assume - based more on the name than any real knowledge - that their Union is simply an organisation which has something to do with Trade Unions, striking, pickets lines, and political activism.
That view is simply not accurate, of course; a quick look around UPSU.net can show that the Union covers everything from clubs and societies, training and volunteering, to socialising and even part-time jobs.
The real problem here is actually sowing the seeds of interest in peoples' minds to begin with; the only way to do that with any degree of success, of course, is to look at what the Union actually does and offers to students, and base a clear, easy-to-grasp campaign on that foundation.
Of course, for many Unions, this daunting task becomes even more difficult to handle when the realisation hits that this has to happen *every* year, and that it's a process of continual improvement and pure hard slog to avoid "advert blindness" affecting their campaigns.
I've come full circle in this rambling discussion I think; we're back to where we began, because until students understand what the Union actually does, they can't be expected to make the connection to *why* it is that Sabbatical officers are so important to their time at University.
But, naturally, once the "who" and "why" is explained, I don't think it's that hard for anyone to see the reasons why they should be taking a much greater interest in the real abilities and motivation behind the elections candidates.
And there, in my idealistic world - which I know probably doesn't bear much relationship to the real world - lies the reason why the conversation I had last night makes me want to go and howl at the moon; it's YOUR Union, and YOUR right to vote. The benefits of having a group of Sabbatical officers in office who *really* know what they're doing are clear once you see the difference between the good and the bad ones.
For students who don't know, don't understand, or simply don't care what the Union's democratic process was conceived to provide for them, I hope someone more involved - and more eloquent than I am - takes the time to explain to them what it is they're missing out on.
Of course, the really daft thing about last night's conversation was that I was only going to say hello - I certainly wasn't thinking of doing my "vote for me" thing; that doesn't start until next Monday (and I say that with more than a little worry in my voice!).
As "they" say, "there's nowt stranger than people..." ;o)
Peace out /al