The campaign week for the upcoming NUS referendum has been postponed following the resignation of the spokespeople for the “Yes” side.
In an email to The Saint, the spokespeople for the “Yes” side, Jo Boon and Ali West, said that they did not feel the referendum was being run fairly.
“After reviewing the circumstances surrounding this referendum, the way it has been run so far, and the rules which have been proposed to govern it, we have come to the conclusion that it is not possible for the referendum to occur in a fair and balanced matter, which we think is vitally important,” they said.
As a result, they have chosen to resign “in protest” and have asked that the referendum be suspended “until it can be run fairly.”
Specific complaints that Ms Boon and Ms West made included the fact that the referendum rules are subject to change at any time, without notice, by the elections committee.
“This is not standard for St Andrews elections, and ultimately means that any decision made by the committee could undermine the entire process,” Ms Boon and Ms West said.
Another complaint was that the AGMs for each side of the campaign were not adequately advertised by the Students’ Association. Ms Boon and Ms West cited Hot Dub Time Machine and the Pub Quiz in Sandy’s Bar as examples of events which received more promotion.
“If the Union can use its promotional abilities to advertise events, it should be able to use them to advertise a referendum that has been three years in the making,” they added.
Ms Boon and Ms West also took issue with the amount of funding allocated for the campaigns, which was cut earlier this year from £350 to just £100 for each side. They argued that because “the onus remains on the ‘Yes’ campaign to get the word out about the NUS” their side required more publicity and so the cut in funding would lead to a “bias towards the status quo.”
They also noted that the motion to cut the funding was proposed by the President of the Students’ Association, Pat Mathewson, who has now withdrawn from the elections committee over a “conflict of interest.”. The motion was seconded by Annie Newman, who now leads the “No” campaign.
When asked why these complaints were only raised a few days before the official campaigning period was supposed to start, Ms Boon noted that Ms West had raised concerns regarding the referendum rules when they were initially proposed to the Student Representatives Council (SRC).
Ms Boon also explained why the full list of formal complaints had only been submitted today (9 November). She said: “It’s an incredibly important issue and we did not initially realise the extent of the problem. Once we did it was necessary to do thorough research and collate all our information, proof and letters together so that everything was accurate. We have acted as quickly as possible but it has been a big job to ensure everything was completely correct.”
Continuing, Ms Boon said that she and Ms West wanted to “make sure” they had their “facts completely straight” before bringing their issues forward.
She also claimed that the “Yes” side were not the only ones with concerns over the way the referendum was being run.
“We had a meeting with the “No” team yesterday who also expressed some concerns at the current situation,” Ms Boon told The Saint.
In a statement to the The Saint, the elections committee said that they “noted” the resignations of Ms Boon and Ms West, but that the referendum would proceed as planned.
As a result of the resignations, an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) will be held on Wednesday 11 November at 9 pm in the Union’s Beacon Bar.
“St Andrews students expect fair and well-informed elections, and the elections committee believes it would be irresponsible for the referendum to proceed without eager advocates for both sides of the debate,” the statement said.
If there is a lack of interest in this EGM – Ms Boon and Ms West were the only students in attendance at the first “Yes” EGM -this will be interpreted by the elections committee as indicative of a lack of interest from the student body as a whole. In this scenario, the SRC and the Student Services Council (SSC) will be allowed to move to cancel the referendum entirely.
Addressing Ms Boon and Ms West’s complaints over the rules for the referendum, the statement said: “the elections committee has carefully reviewed the process undertaken in establishing the referendum, and has concluded the proper procedure was followed, with no breach to the Association laws or other policies. The 38 elected students of the Councils adopted the referendum, its rules, and timeline over the course of a seven day period with no objection.”
Speaking to The Saint, Annie Newman and Tommy Rowe, expressed their surprise at this turn of events.
Ms Newman said: “I personally don’t think that leaving a situation is better for a problem than constructively fixing it.”
“In the time it took to compile this document, they could have been having a constructive discourse with the elections committee or they could have been planning their own campaigns,” she added.
Commenting on the “Yes” side’s complaints over the rules, Ms Newman also noted that the rules had been reviewed and approved by both student councils and the referendum fact sheet had been approved by the Students’ Association Board, which contains a variety of members, including both ordinary students and Sabbatical officers.
Mr Rowe said: “I was blind sided by it, I did not expect it at all, they didn’t really say anything to us before [resigning].
“I don’t really know what their prerogative is. If it truly is out of fairness then I must be short sighted as I don’t see the bias.”