On Tuesday, 14th February, the outcomes of the Big Ask were announced, but the results were far from a simple yes or no. Matthew Styles, a member of the Elections Committee, helps us clear up the confusion of the night and clarify what actually happened…
Last Tuesday, the SU held its first ever Emergency General Meeting with a view to update the Union’s governing documents to reflect what students voted for and against in The Big Ask. The original agenda contained five resolutions: To confirm the results of each referendum (1, 2, 3 and 4) and to approve the new Articles of Association.
If any of the referenda were inquorate, it was expected that the first four resolutions, if passed, would approve the view that students voted for or against the referendum motion, regardless of turnout. The fifth agenda item would make changes to the Articles based on students’ views. If a referendum was quorate and students voted ‘yes’, or students voted ‘yes’ and at the meeting the result was confirmed by one of the first four motions, the necessary changes would be made to the Articles and the Big Red Book to implement this change.
The first four items require a simple majority (50%) vote to pass. The fifth item is a ‘Special Resolution’, because it makes changes to the Articles, and as such requires a four fifths majority to pass. Voting can take place in two ways – the first is by a show of hands, and proxy votes are not taken into consideration. The second is by a poll, similar to a secret ballot at Council, where votes are written down on paper and proxy votes are taken into consideration.
The first four resolutions passed by show of hands. The fifth item fell by a show of hands, a poll was requested, and the resolution subsequently passed. Last Tuesday, this agenda changed to: ‘note’ the results of referendum 1 and 2, and ‘approve’ the results of referenda 3, 4, 5 and the new Articles of Association.
‘Noting’ the results of referenda 1 and 2 does nothing – they could pass or fall and there would be no difference, as they simply acknowledge the referendum figure. The reason the first two resolutions were in the new agenda was because students who had filled out proxy forms had voted for resolution [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, any other]; removing agenda items would mean their votes would be used for completely different resolutions, so the agenda gaps needed to be filled.
The Exec met earlier to discuss the meeting and decided that because the Articles do not explicitly say that a General Meeting has the power to make changes to our Bye Laws (essentially the Big Red Book), that it would be best that the Articles could only be updated if approved in the last resolution. Changes to the Big Red Book would need to be made by SU Council in the normal way, which changes the process of potentially implementing these changes significantly.
Originally, the General Meeting had the power to immediately implement referenda if students voted for them. For example, if students had voted ‘yes’ to the new Exec structure and the General Meeting had updated both the Articles and the Big Red Book, then nominations would have opened last week for the five Exec positions. Instead, the Articles were updated, but the Big Red Book was not.
At the next SU Council session, Council will need to “ratify” the referenda, given that they were inquorate, and update the Big Red Book to reflect both the changes proposed in the referenda, and any specific details which need to be implemented for the changes to happen. If Council is inquorate, the decision on whether to implement the changes or not will have to wait until the next Council session, and so on. If Council votes against ‘ratifying’ the referenda, then we need to hold another General Meeting to revert the changes made to the Articles.
There were some key questions raised at the General Meeting. The first was, “Why not wait until Council approves the decision before holding the General Meeting?” Normally, the General Meeting would be held after Council had approved the changes, but this General Meeting had already been scheduled and a lot of work had gone into getting students to attend or vote by proxy. Additionally, a special resolution requires 21 days’ notice to be given for the General Meeting. If last week’s meeting went ahead, as soon as a quorate Council approved the changes (if they choose to do so), then the changes can be implemented straight away; if the meeting was put off, at least three weeks after a quorate Council would be the earliest opportunity to make the necessary changes.
Another question was why the meeting only noted the first two referenda. Part of the reason for not changing Council to Assembly if students wanted to last week was that Council needs to be held to make the necessary changes. If Assembly were part-implemented instead, it would be difficult to go forward and set up the new decision-making body had Council approved the referendum.
One notably great feature of a General Meeting is the ability for the chair to accept a vote by show of hands without the need to count – something which understandably takes up some time at Council. All in all, the meeting was rather eventful, and didn’t finish until nearly 9pm, mostly down to the number of questions which the students present had about the change in agenda, the resolutions being voted on, and whether it should have gone ahead or been postponed.