Before tonight’s SU Student Council, The Linc spoke to Calum Watt about why he proposed the motion titled: “Hold a by-election for the Vice President Academic Affairs Position.”
Q. Why did you propose the motion?
I proposed the motion because, although I agree that it would be difficult to have a by-election in the middle of summer when an SU Officer position is left vacant, the current constitution actually contradicts itself on the process that should be followed. It says on one line: “A by-election will be held at the discretion of the trustees.” About two lines down, it states: “A by election must be held within 5 days of the start of term.”
The constitution technically gives them the authority to appoint anyone the trustees want under those circumstances, but that is based on a very flimsy reading. The first rule of law is “always read the whole document,” and I think the spirit of the constitution clearly calls for a democratic vote as soon as possible. That is the right thing to do, rather than the Trustees simply overriding democratic process and appointing someone for the entire year without a democratic mandate from students. I think that both morally and legally we should be having a by-election. The trustees disagree and so we must go to the student council to decide what must be done.
Q. How do you expect the vote to go?
I am confident that the vote will go our way. I think students are pretty riled over the fact that they have had a sabbatical officer imposed upon them they did not vote for. I have had a number of meetings with students about the issue. The general consensus seems to be that, although they have no problems with the person who has been appointed, it is a bad precedent to set that the Trustees can simply ignore democratic process in this way.
Q. If the motion does pass, what happens then?
We must have a sabbatical team that has the full confidence of the members. It is of utmost importance that when our officers are going to meetings, particularly with the University and external bodies they are able to say that they have a full democratic mandate from students, and “this is what students want.” Having appointed sabbaticals undermines their legitimacy and so undermines the Union. The Trustees could have arranged for this by-election to happen in conjunction with all the other by-elections that happened at the beginning of term, and that might have considerably raised the turnout of those elections. That was unfortunately not done, but there is precedent for a sabbatical by-election during term time. In 2011 the President of the SU, Ary Sharif, stepped down and a by-election was held within a couple of weeks. My motion calls for one within 30 days, which is ample time. The on-line voting systems are all in place, the publicity costs are negligible for a well-run and well-funded Union such as ours, and in any case you cannot put a price on democracy.
Students’ Union President, Brian Alcorn, sent this response when asked about the process of the Student Council.
He said: “Students are the political driving force of the Students’ Union, bringing ideas, or ‘motions’, to Student Council. If these are voted through, these policy recommendations are reviewed by the Board of Trustees at the next meeting. The Board of Trustees has ultimate oversight of the SU to ensure the outputs of the organisation are carried out fairly and efficiently.”
The Linc will be running a live blog and tweeting from the event.