Fat Lady tipped to win race for university post

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The Independent Online
THE FAT Lady is favourite, but she has lost money at enough horse races to know that the favourite does not necessarily win. If Clarissa Dickson Wright is elected rector of Aberdeen University, she will be the first celebrity cook to hold the title. Students go to the polls today after a lively campus campaign and ritual food fight.

"I was invited to stand by people I didn't know. They'd seen me on Question Time in the summer. They want a high-profile person to fight tuition fees, so it's not just about cooking," said Ms Dickson Wright yesterday.

"People keep making jokes about teaching students to cook. What's more relevant is the nutritional value of food in the refectory, which I'm told isn't too good."

But as a former lawyer, and pheasant farmer, the 50-year-old thinks that she offers a bigger picture of life than red meat and full-fat foods.

Her main opponent is Magnus Linklater, a former editor of The Scotsman and now a political columnist with The Times, who is struggling against a reputation as the "serious candidate". "Clarissa baked the students a cake. But my campaign is not entirely solemn," he said. "I've borrowed a slogan from the Wonderbra ad: `Can't cook, who cares?'"

"I'm not convinced most people know who Magnus Linklater is," said David Welsh, the president of the Student Representative Council. That must be disquieting news for the journalist, 56, whose father, a novelist, was rector at Aberdeen after the Second World War. The Linklater Room houses a collection of 20th-century Scottish paintings left to the university by Eric Linklater. The paintings became an electoral issue when it was remembered that Magnus had once asked if he could give a few of them house room in Edinburgh.

The new rector will succeed the late Allan MacCartney, the academic and Scottish National Party politician who represented the North East Scotland constituency in the European Parliament.

Scottish Nationalists have had a monopoly on the rectorship in recent years but that is expected to change. Norman Allan, a retired hospital

consultant and SNP councillor for 10 years, is the rank outsider. His student supporters even pulled out of the food fight.

That leaves a retired major, Richard Eccles, 48, who has been the most visible campaigner on the campus. He believes students need someone on hand to fight their welfare battles, not an absentee celebrity.

The former Marine, who runs an outdoor centre in the nearby Cairngorms, only got rid of his ear-ring and pigtail last week at a charity event.

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