The Students’ Union Council has agreed to plans lowering quoracy levels in referenda, with the aim of making it easier for students to decide directly on certain areas of policy. This came despite a vote on the same issue failing to pass just a few weeks before at the previous Council.
The SU Council heard that the last referendum held was in 2003, when there was a petition to boycott Nestlé products. Democracy and Communications Officer George Wright claimed that this was due to the current level of quoracy being “unattainably high” at 20%. He added that “Quoracy should not be a target but a number with which we are comfortable to base decisions on. By lowering quoracy we would be able to run more referenda.” The initial motion in November suggested that the referenda quorum should be reduced from 20% down to 6% of students, and the percentage of students required to sign a petition for referenda should be reduced from the current 5% down to 2%. However, many of those present at the Council meeting and those watching the proceedings on the NUTS live stream met the proposals with some concern.
Opposing the motion was Dave Jackson, who asserted that referenda had no protection for minorities and “risked being populist”. He believed that current quoracy levels ensured that referenda were “only used when an issue really mobilises the student body”. Wright responded that all petitions would have a £200 fee and would not be allowed to break the SU Equal Opportunities policy. However, after the first motion failed to reach the four-fifths support required for it to pass, he did compromise on the level of quoracy, with the revised proposal stating that quorum should stand at 10% of students. Wright explained that their motivation behind the plan was based on a student desire for referendum found in the Big Review 2010 survey. In this survey, 3,146 students were asked to choose their first, second and third preferred method of decision-making, and these choices were given 3 points, 2 points or 1 point respectively.
Under this method, 27% of the total scores voted for ‘referendum’, making it the most popular choice. Some believed that this didn’t form enough of a basis for the changes proposed, and it was pointed out that 73% of scores preferred alternative options. However, the SU maintained that the survey showed that students had “made a shout for referenda”. Wright argued: “Students have expressed clearly that they want more referenda. As student leaders we should react to this and make it happen.” Jackson disputed that there was clear enough support for a referendum and said that until there was, the SU should focus on fixing existing problems in Council. He asked: “What are referenda for – to allow greater student involvement or to bypass Council?”
An online viewer also added, “If an SU officer is usually elected by 20% of the University, why should it be less to change the Union completely?” After the first motion was defeated, the SU Executive researched the percentage of students that certain top UK universities require for petition and quorum in referenda. Amongst these universities, Nottingham had the highest percentage needed for quorum at 20%, compared to an average of 7.5%. It was argued that Nottingham needed to be brought in line with other universities. SU President Will Vickers again drew Council’s attention to the fact that referendum was the most popular method of decision making, and insisted that this was the reason why change was needed, saying, “If we don’t pass it, we will fail our students”. The motion passed with only one abstention, none against, and 43 in favour.
Due to council being inquorate, however, the motion will have to be ratified at the next session.