Voting opened Thursday on a referendum to radically transform the democratic mechanisms of Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA), including increasing the number of full-time sabbatical officers and adapting student council voting procedures.
Among the provisions included in the motion are a widespread re-categorisation of the current student representative categories; the establishment of part-time paid positions for representatives of liberation groups and university colleges; a new appointment process for four additional students to the Trustee Board, selected by a panel; and the introduction of a second term opportunity for sabbatical officers.
The motion also contained a proposal to put contentious Student Council motions to a student-wide referendum if they receive between 33 and 66 per cent of the vote in the room.
The regulatory measures are collectively included under a single question, put to voters as “Should your students’ union change how it represents all students at the University of Edinburgh?”. A separate, independent question asks whether EUSA should undergo a name change to be University of Edinburgh Students Union.
Taking place online over a two week voting period, the referendum is the culmination of several months of review and consultation in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS), including an online survey that garnered 1500 responses and two NUS-led workshops. It would represent one of the most transformative shifts in years for the students’ association, which has existed in some form since 1884.
“This proposal comes after consultation with 5,000 students, who said they wanted their students’ union to be more representative of all students across all our campuses,” Jonny Ross-Tatam, EUSA president and co-author of the motion, told The Student. “Particularly, it’s going to see contentious issues that are voted on at Student Council in central campus go to an online ballot open to all students.”
Urte Macikene, Vice President Services, added that the proposals were aimed at making representation more accessible to students, pointing to provisions that would make representative roles paid as part-time jobs.
“We want to give students the support and opportunity to really take initiative and responsibility as reps, something which many students can’t do because they are working part time to support themselves,” she told The Student. “We foresee the most room for growth in terms of campaigns and projects, which would mean potentially greater demands on students’ time; by paying the students in these roles, they will be more able to devote time to these activities.”
With online voting underway at 1pm, about 20 participants had registered as “attending” for a Facebook event titled “Vote YES in the EUSA referendum” at time of publication.
But despite some early signs of support, the referendum has attracted sharp criticism from other members of the student body, who have levelled accusations of poor advertisement and a lack of transparency on the part of EUSA. Central to the backlash is the charge that whilst financial provisions of £150 for a “No” campaign have been provided for, the lack of awareness has pre-empted a viable opposition effort.
A Facebook page entitled “What Referendum? Vote No” had attracted several dozen likes over the course of the afternoon.
“Bet you didn’t know there was EUSA referendum happening?” a post on the page read. “Nope, nor did we. It seems EUSA wanted to keep this as their little secret to slip through some pretty major changes to its structures & its name.”
Online commentators attacked the proposal structures as “hopelessly vague”, with one saying that given the announcement timetable, there was “basically no opportunity for students to properly oppose this.”
In an online response, Macikene defended the Association’s approach, pointing out that the referendum had been consistently mentioned in sabbatical reports given at Student Council, as well as in the online survey itself.
“Putting something to referendum for every single student to vote on is the ultimate way to consult with students across campus,” she said. “Over 2000 students have to vote in favour for each proposal to pass. There is a very clear way for students to oppose these proposals, and it’s voting no if they disagree.”
But critics took issue with what they characterised as a lack of emphasis on proposals in public Facebook posts by EUSA representatives.
The referendum overlaps the campaign season for EUSA elections, which officially commences Thursday, March 3. Voting on both the referendum and the sabbatical elections will conclude on Thursday, March 10 at 4pm.
The results of both competitions will be announced the following day.