Photo: Michael Green, The society committee that was elected at the AGM in question
The society committee that was elected at the AGM in question / Photo: Michael Green

The St Andrews Conservative Society has announced it will disaffiliate from the University of St Andrews Students’ Association.

The decision was made in response to the Association authorising the cash office to sell memberships of the society in preparation for the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The AGM was set to be re-held following allegations of election fraud within the society, first revealed by The Saint earlier this year.

The society argued in a statement released today that they “must be free to withhold membership from persons who by their conduct fail to respect the values of our Party.”

Student Association rules state that an affiliated society must “permit any student matriculated at the University of St Andrews to become an ordinary member of the society and to exercise the full rights of membership.”

The rules also state that, in the event of a dispute between members of the society, those involved must submit to arbitration by the Student Services Council (SSC) Societies subcommittee.

Despite this, the society described the Association’s decision as a “shocking usurpation by the DoSDA [Director of Student Development and Activities] of prerogatives which our Association’s Constitution reserves to our Secretary and Treasurer.”

Going on, the society said, “Moreover, this arbitrary act is unprecedented and applied exclusively to STAUCA; membership of no other society is sold in a similar manner at the Cash Office.”

In a statement to The Saint, the Students’ Association said that they have “an obligation to make sure all elections run by our affiliated societies are run in a free, fair and transparent manner.

“The St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Society held a fraudulent election in April of this year. Due to the sheer number of societies (over 140 affiliated), we do not send a member of the societies committee to attend each election unless specifically asked.

“The St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Society notified us that their AGM would be held on the 18th April, however they did not request a member to be present or to oversee its running.

“An investigation was launched by the St Andrews Students’ Association after allegations were made of non-members being asked and then permitted to vote in the election. Members of the committee participated in this investigation, however the findings of said investigation were not passed onto the society in question by previous elected officer holders by the end of the last academic year. We do sincerely apologise for this mistake.”

The Association’s statement went on to explain the communication between the society and the Association that took place in the past week: “To rectify this lack of communication the current Director of Student Development and Activities and SSC Societies Officer met with members of the committee to discuss the findings of the investigation.

“Following a meeting on Tuesday 20 September 2016, The St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Society was issued a notice to cure [a formal request to rectify the situation] with the understanding that the Societies Committee would oversee this election.

“The DoSDA and Societies Officer have been closely monitoring the rescheduled election and determined that the society’s EGM notice was invalid due to the omission of the location of the EGM, which is clearly stated as a requirement in the Standing Orders (section 7.1.1).

“We believe, as this EGM was designed to be a reconciliation of the fraudulent AGM, any member at the time of that AGM, who is still a matriculated student, should have been notified and given the opportunity to vote. The DoSDA and Societies Officer determined that not everyone who is or was a member of the society, or had expressed interest in the society, was given adequate notice of the EGM.”

Defending the decision to sell memberships of the society through the cash office, the Association said, “Many of those members came into the Union on Friday 23rd September to purchase membership, as they claimed to have been members at the time of the AGM held in the spring.

“This falls under Section 7.3.1 of the Standing Orders for disputed membership which states, ‘Should any person dispute their membership in a society prior to a general meeting of the society, the Societies Committee shall have exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate membership status.’”

“Following this arrangement, the Students’ Association attempted to contact the committee of the St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Society to discuss the option of accepting memberships purchased via the Students’ Association Cash Office.

“This would give the committee the opportunity to have the memberships purchased from them directly, but with a Students’ Association representative present. No response was received to the request to speak with them further regarding this issue.

“It is clearly stated in the affiliation agreement that all societies sign that they must permit any matriculated student to become a member of the society (Section 4.A).

“Should the Students’ Association feel the committee of a society does not command sufficient trust in their intention to keep accurate membership lists, the Students’ Association is within its rights to offer an alternative method of registering membership.

“No affiliated society has the ability to reject a students’ right to buy membership, and the Students’ Association strongly believes that this should never be the case regardless of whether a society is affiliated.

“It is clearly stated in the affiliation agreement that all societies sign that they must permit any matriculated student to become a member of the society (Section 4.A).

However, the Conservative society’s statement went on to argue that, by authorising the cash office to sell memberships, the Association was “aiding and abetting” a “vindictive movement aiming ‘to ruin’ present members of the Committee by all possible means.”

The statement also added that “the truth is that the demand for memberships purchased in such a fashion derives primarily from certain former members of STAUCA, who have in the past failed to respect the values of our Association and the Party to which we are affiliated.

“It is therefore hardly surprising that these former members did not sign up to the membership list in the conventional manner, but have sought to do so clandestinely behind the Committee’s back.”

The statement also accused the Association of failing to recognise the former members’ attempts to rejoin the society “for the vindictive campaign of hatred that it is,” saying that they have instead “inadvertently legitimised it by taking its side.”

The statement goes on to say the society was “issued an ultimatum” to accept the memberships authorised by the Association by 12 PM on September 26 or face disaffiliation.

The statement argued that “by demanding this, the Students’ Association is in effect attempting to impose on us the membership of students who make our members feel uncomfortable and whose behaviour is likely to negatively affect the reputation and electoral success of the Party to which we are affiliated and represent.

the Students’ Association is in effect attempting to impose on us the membership of students who make our members feel uncomfortable and whose behaviour is likely to negatively affect the reputation and electoral success of the Party to which we are affiliated and represent.

The statement went on to say, “The Students’ Association is in effect denying us this right. We therefore have no choice but to refuse to comply with the Students’ Association’s ultimatum, and accept the consequences.

However, the Association disputed this version of events, telling The Saint that the threat of disaffiliation was made because the society would not comply with Association rules regarding EGMs, not over the issue of membership lists.

The Association said, “On Friday 23rd September the society was issued a notice to cure that asked them to resolve the issue of location and dissemination of information.

“This was not based on a requirement to accept membership sold by the Students’ Association. It read as follows: ‘If we do not receive a response from you by 12pm on Monday 26th, discussing a re-announcement of your EGM including all members at the time of the initial AGM and the location of the event, we will find you in violation of Paragraph 4(B) of the Affiliation Agreement with the Student’s Association and the Students’ Association will terminate the Affiliation Agreement (ie. disaffiliate the society).’”

The Association concluded by stating, “The St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Society have now voluntarily chosen to disaffiliate from the St Andrews Students’ Association and are therefore no longer supported or associated with the organisation.”

The Conservative Society’s statement went on to say, “Though this is a difficult decision, it is the only one we can make as a Committee which is bound to always uphold the interests, safety, and well-being of our Association’s members. As Conservatives, we believe that every student at our University, regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, religion, or social background, is equally valuable and equally entitled to the fairest possible opportunities in life. Anyone who openly voices opinions in contradiction to this jeopardises the aims of our Association.

“It is therefore out of our desire to allow the values of openness and inclusivity to define STAUCA that we disaffiliate from the Students’ Association.”

The Scottish Conservatives stated that the issue was a matter for the society and the Association.

10 COMMENTS

  1. “It is therefore out of our desire to allow the values of openness and inclusivity to define STAUCA that we disaffiliate from the Students’ Association.”

    Really? I’d have thought a society that defines itself as “open and inclusive” to not refuse membership to people because they don’t like their opinions…

  2. Yeah…so they want to function like a private club where membership is restricted? By all means, do. But not within the Union. Not many tears will be shed.

    So, if I understand correctly: The last AGM was rigged to elect a particular group of candidates, who then kicked out opponents from the Society. With this new (purged) membership list, they now want to hold an EGM where only the members who survived the purge could vote? How would that solve anything? Basically, the illegitimate leadership wants to legitimate its position through another rigged EGM. Good for the DOSDA and the Student Association for standing up to this fraud.

    And invoking “openness and inclusivity” to justify excluding members is definitely a case of delicious irony.

    • In what may be a first for any Conservative organisation Emil, I believe they sought to exclude a person (well, person and cronies) who is even more of a repulsive character than would be expected to be a part of the society.. On this occasion the behaviour of the committee – at least in excluding those who have proven themselves to hold views surpassing even the usual Tory brand of toxicity – is somewhat understandable, though the farce of the election perhaps not so much.

      And at any rate curtailing membership is all the rage these days, Labour are doing it at a national level for what is basically a similar reason, although in their case the ‘undesirables’ are just on the other side of the spectrum

      • Elections are for choosing society leaders/committee members – not unilateral membership exclusions. The committee does not own the society – nor do they get to decide who’s in ‘their’ society. In cases of misconduct, etc., most society bylaws (as far as I know) include provisions for exclusion of members. Yet, the new committee, being fraudulently elected, has no right to decide who can be a member, and especially not for mere divergences of opinion, no matter how profound.

        A committee acts on behalf of a society – it does not rule it.

  3. I suppose the million dollar question is if this person was as horrendous as the current committee are making out, why did they have to rig an election to prevent him from being elected?

    Either the majority of the membership agree with him (which means he’s either not that extreme or the majority of the membership also hold repugnant views) or he was never going to get in anyway, in which case the rigging of the election was an act of extreme stupidity as well as being undemocratic.

  4. Sounds like this little student club’s committee has gone a bid renegade, and perception of power has gone to their heads…

    You are supposed to be running a student club. A place for like-minded students to meet and discuss, debate and educated each other. Reading about this as an outsider, it’s utterly embarrassing conduct for the current committee, and it comes across as a short sighted power grab. They should be working to ensure the future of the society, by disafilliating they almost guarantee a steady decline in membership as in the next few years currently members graduate and the club loses the ability to recruit and advertise through the union, until eventually it is just forgotten altogether…

    To the current committee who is going down this route… Time go grow up.

  5. The Student Association seem to contradict themselves in their statement. They say that the EGM was ‘fraudulent’ as the Committee weren’t going to accept the members. The Committee then say they don’t want the members because they don’t stand up to the values of their society and party (Which is fair enough) so decide to disaffiliate. The Student Association then say it’s not because of the members the society is disaffiliating, it is because of the EGM. Which takes me back to the first statement.

    The Student Association seem to be forcing members who evidently don’t support the values of the society onto the society. If this is the positions the Student’s Association have put the Conservative society I say well done to the Conservative society to standing up to their values, even if it does mean short-term bad press.

    • Who’s the committee to decide who “shares the values” of the society? The rules are clear: anyone who wants to join can do so. The committee doesn’t rule the society.

      And, note that that committee was fraudulently elected in the first place – do you really want an illegitimate committee deciding who can vote? If so, you’re legitimising fraud (the fraudulent committee will create an electorate that will elect it).

  6. As much as many people think that this is an abuse of power and societies should be open to all, I can understand why there should be a difference between general societies and political ones. In this case, the society is there as an extension of the political party, and as such it’s reasonable to expect its members to hold views in keeping with said party. As many societies in St Andrews are relatively small it wouldn’t take a huge number of people holding different views to the political party to hijack the society and steer it in a direction contrary to the party line, so to speak. Therefore is it not reasonable that such a society only allows those holding similar views to be members? If you hold different beliefs (either further left or further right) then you should join the society associated with your section of the political spectrum.
    This is the problem that Labour faced in their leadership elections, and they were able to exclude people who they believed didn’t hold the values associated with their party.
    This whole scenario wasn’t handled appropriately, by either side, however on the balance of reason I personally feel that the conservative society were in the right on this issue, and that the union needs to amend its articles to take political societies into account regarding membership.

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