After almost two years of consultation by successive SU Execs, multiple visits to SU Council and two failed referenda, the proposed Students’ Union reforms – first envisioned by 2010/11 Exec
members Will Vickers and Douggie McMeekin – came to what seemed to be their conclusion last term. In the aftermath of February’s ‘The Big Ask’, which produced a large majority in favour of the proposed reforms, albeit an inquorate one (a 5.8% turnout rather than the required 10%) – current SU Exec President Alex Corck-Adelman and Democracy and Communications Officer Danny Barry put forward the proposed reforms for SU Council’s approval.
Speaking to Impact after the referenda and before the SU Council meeting on Thursday, 8th March, Danny Barry said that “the intention was for [the referenda] to be binding and it would have been binding if there had been 10% reached… we were never going to say if 10% isn’t reached, it’s just an opinion poll… we genuinely thought that there was a strong possibility that we could have got 3,500 students.”
This seemingly confirmed an opinion amongst parts of the student body that the Exec was seeking to force through the reforms no matter what, resorting to SU Council only after the referenda failed. “We are now resorting to the next best thing”, Barry added, though he denied that they were waiting until they got the result that they wanted. Nevertheless, going into the SU Council meeting, Alex was “hopeful that it would pass”. Furthermore, sources inside the SU revealed to Impact that the Senior Management Team had been planning the implementation of the proposed reforms since late January, indicating that the SU Exec Team were confident of the passage of the reforms.
However, if they had been expecting an easy passage through SU Council, they must have been sorely disappointed. In what was almost certainly the most combative SU Council session of the year, SU Council spent more than two hours debating the first of the four proposed reforms. At the very end of the session, the motion ‘To Adopt the New Decision Making Structure’ (replacing SU Council with SU Assembly) narrowly failed to achieve the two thirds majority needed, with 26 votes for to 13 against, and one abstention. This prompted jubilant cheers from the motion’s opponents, notably Education Officer Elizabeth ‘Egg’ Goddard, Education Officer-elect Matt Styles and Disabled Students Officer Reuben Kirkham.
In the aftermath of the result, Alex Corck-Adelman was quick to condemn the process, stating: “it continues to show the sorry state of the democratic structures when twice were for the motion rather than against, yet ‘against’ is the way we proceed… it is a crying shame the Union is still stuck where it was 42 years ago”.
After that council meeting came to a premature end, an extraordinary council was held on Monday, 26th March to discuss the three remaining motions regarding the Big Ask, i.e. questions 1, 3,and 4 which proposed a new executive structure for the Union, and the introduction of student trustees and two-year sabbatical officers. This council meeting saw the three remaining proposals pass with convincing majorities.
This meant that several ideas envisioned by the the four original referenda of the Big Ask were put through by the SU Council, not the student body – which, ironically, raises questions about how exactly the SU President aims to improve the so-called “sorry state of the democratic structures”.
Nevertheless, the debate is still not over. Because the extraordinary council was inquorate, the results will have to be ratified by the next quorate council meeting, which will likely be the one held on Tuesday, 8th May. How student trustees will be appointed is also currently being detailed by the Exec Team and will then have to be approved by SU Council. Furthermore, prior to the last extraordinary council, the motion relating to the new executive structure was amended to include only the removal of Democracy and Communications Officer and Finance and Services Officer, leaving discussions about the Welfare and Community Officer and Environment and Social Justice Officer for a later council meeting.
After the failure of the SU Assembly motion, Barry hosted a consultation meeting on Wednesday, 28th March to “establish how the system could be improved/ adapted to provide the best possible decision making structure for students.” It was open for all students to voice their concerns and provide suggestions for ways to improve the current decision making structure. From this feedback, the Execs are currently aiming to develop new proposals that can be discussed next year.
Either way, one can only hope that ‘the Big Farce’ has truly come to an end.
James Rathbone & Eric John
*The original article stated that the Referenda questions passed at the inquorate council were q1, q2 and q4. It also stated that Corck-Adelman co-hosted the consultation session with Barry, that all students were ‘invited’ to attend, and that the next council meeting was to be held on Friday, 8th May.