Council reject referendum motion

UEA union council has voted to reject a motion which would have seen campus hold a referendum before products or people are banned by the SU.

Motion 135 Giving the SU Back to its Members was rejected at the first union council of the academic year, on Thursday 19th October.

The motion proposed any proposal “to prevent co-operation with an external organisation or person” be automatically put to a campus-wide referendum. It also applied to any intentions to “prevent supply” of a particular product.

The motion was proposed by Jack Robinson, the Campaigns and Democracy officer, and seconded by Mae Kabore, the LGBT+ Open Place officer.

Mr Robinson, before the motion was discussed, said: “If Union Council are going to take a stance and subsequent action on a controversial issue, it should be our job to get out there and win the argument, explaining why we support or oppose something rather than making the decision for students behind closed doors.”

In the last three years, UEA has faced controversy following union decisions to ban, disinvite, or not stock controversial products and speakers. In 2014, an event with the city’s parliamentary candidate for Ukip was cancelled following a student petition.

Most recently, a decision to ban local Mexican restaurant Pedros from handing out sombreros to students at a freshers’ fair in 2015 led to national press coverage.

Dan Box, a union councillor for the LDC school, said he supported the motion because it would “allow the entire student body to make decisions, thus becoming much more active members in our union”.

He said: “At the end of the day it’s the reputation of the university which will be affected, so it’s a decision in which everyone should get to have their opinion heard. When the elected SU officials made decisions on what to ban in the past without consulting the student body via referendum, we got stupid decisions like Sombrero-gate.

“It’s about time the gap between students and the SU was erased, and the first step to that in my opinion is letting every students decide what they want to ban.”

The union has held a number of referendums to decide policy in the past. Students voted to boycott Nestle in December 2005 but overwhelmingly voted against banning the controversial song Blurred Lines in 2013.

Union councillors voted 42 to 26 against the motion. There were 16 abstentions.

Abbie Mulcairn, union councillor for Leeway Society, spoke against the motion. She argued the motion would instead give more power to the Campaigns and Democracy Officer.

The motion proposed ideas submitted to the union’s website be “rapidly” implemented by default and to “mandate the Campaigns and Democracy Officer to develop internal guidelines on how student suggestions should be handled to avoid student thinking they have to take a simple idea to Council.”

Ms Mulcairn said: “This was a blatant attempt to shift power from elected councillors to the Campaigns & Democracy Officer wrapped up in a lie about ‘giving power back to students’.  I found this power grab an absolute insult after 3 years sat on union council.”

Mr Robinson told Concrete: “We had proposed that when a student has an idea- like a new item in the shop or a theme for Damn Good, the SU should just get on with it instead of asking a student to “write a motion”. The idea that that represents a power grab is laughable.”

Misha Camp, representative for International Development Society, said he felt the motion was unclear. He said: “A motion that designates where and how democracy should be working in the student union needs to be very clear and understandable.”

An anonymous suggestion has been made on the “I have an idea” section of the SU’s website following the vote that “all decisions to ban things should go to an all student referendum”. If an idea receives 425 up-votes on the website a referendum on the policy will be held.


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October 2021
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