As the vast majority of readers will know, a week ago, The Student chose not to distribute full copies of the paper it had printed because of a threat of legal action from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). A motion proposed for last Thursday’s Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Student Council meeting was alleged by the SWP to be defaming; the party claimed that an article about the motion, due to be published in The Student, was also defaming.
By the time the SWP contacted EUSA and The Student, the paper had already been printed, and was due to be distributed around campus. We chose to delay distribution by several hours, whilst we obtained legal advice on the situation from various sources. In the meantime, EUSA, acting to protect the student who had written the motion, from legal action, withdrew ‘SWP Off Campus’ from the Student Council’s agenda. After much deliberation, on advice from several sources, we decided that going ahead with publishing the article would be unwise, since the public meeting we were reporting on was no longer going to take place.
The article in question was on page two, and not wanting over fifty writers’ work to go to waste, a decision was made by all the section editors, to distribute the paper without the cover wrap.
Initially, many of The Student’s editors were frustrated with the fact that the motion was withdrawn by EUSA; it was felt that this action forced our hand, and left us with no choice but to withdraw the article and a sizeable chunk of our paper. Admittedly, EUSA probably had no option but to withdraw the motion last Tuesday, and the protection of students involved with the motion is far more important than the publication of a student newspaper. Despite this, it could be questioned why the motion had not been checked thoroughly for potentially defaming material before being approved by EUSA and put on the Council agenda. To clarify, this is in no way a complaint with the sabbatical officers, who have been exceptionally supporting since the incident.
One can only hope that the passage of union democracy is not halted by this hiccup, and that after being re-written by a lawyer, to remove any potentially defaming material, the ‘SWP Off Campus’ motion reappears at the Council, and students who feel unsafe due to the SWP’s presence at the University of Edinburgh can voice their concerns and vote, democratically, to remove them. It is also important that this instance does not deter students from proposing potentially contentious motions to Council. The furore that has followed this incident will almost definitely lead to greater attention from EUSA towards matters like this, and hopefully, preventative measures will be introduced to stop them reoccurring.