For the first time in three years, enough students turned up to a General Assembly for debate to occur. While its decisions wouldn’t be binding – due to not reaching quoracy for a fully authoritative GA – it was still a big moment for UCLU democracy. And yet, in the name of said democracy, someone thought it would be a good idea to call off, indefinitely, the only real opportunity for students to debate each other in years.
Following the failure of Motion 3 to achieve a 75% majority, an angry and disaffected student, Gabriel Gavin, tabled a procedural motion to adjourn the general assembly to a time he, presumably, simply forgot to specify. Shouting that ‘We WILL be back’ with ‘even greater numbers’, confused onlookers couldn’t quite decide whether he was using the royal we or whether he actually represented someone – other than the people keen to leave the assembly for a pint in the IoE bar.
In his piece for Pi Online, Gavin condemned the bureaucratic and meaningless nature of much of the initial stages of the meeting. In doing so, he missed how political it was – people weren’t swapping items around on the agenda out of a passion for the most efficient schedule; instead, partisan though it was, it showed how engaged and informed each side was.
Gavin argued that this was the only democratic option, the only choice for consultation and free speech. One suspects he did not read Pi’s previous editorial, which supported Motion 6 – the motion after Motion 3 on the agenda (it was a confusing agenda). But, in fairness, who bothers to read the different ideas on the topic they’re debating?
Motion 6 likewise would have adjourned the meeting – however, it was thought-through, sensible and actually didn’t turn an already messy situation into chaos.
‘Dialogue, not Division’ would have adjourned the meeting, had the key players from all aspects of the Union sit down and debate, and then a cross-campus referendum would have been held. Gavin’s motion adjourned the meeting, leading to another General Assembly in term 2. This means, most likely, the result will be deferred to Union Council – a body of around 0.01% of the student population, some of whom received less than 10 votes to win their position. Oh, and, due to the indefinite adjournment, it means there may well still be the same sabbatical structure of 10 that pretty much everyone agrees is inefficient next academic year.
The adjournment seems less patriotically democratic now, doesn’t it?
Due to the mess, UCLU’s Trustee Board decided at a meeting on Thursday night to rethink the process. Now, the sabbatical officers will have another meeting this week to discuss a provisional officer structure, attempting to find a short-term compromise for next year. Then, maybe, there will be a meeting – in the vein of Dialogue, not Division’s proposal – to discuss and compromise.
After that, it’s unclear. There has to be another General Assembly due to the adjournment, but the question of whether people will turn up again after the first shambles is not an academic one. We’ll be better off if Motion 6 is informally accepted, so let’s hope the adjournment hasn’t permanently derailed the democratic process.
Some have argued that the great success of the night was the adjournment, in that it showed democracy in action and how frustrated students really are. This isn’t true. The greatest success of the night was the passing of DCO Hannah Sketchley’s motion for job-shares for part-time officers. As Sketchley said in her proposition speech, it was the least controversial motion on the agenda, and yet it still has obvious and great benefits for UCLU and for its members. And it was one of several important motions on the agenda.
The greatest failure of the night, on the other hand, was the refusal to let the other motions on the table be heard and debated. That is not a democratic success story.