This week (commencing 28th April) the Guild is holding two Referendum questions, which could potentially involve significant changes to the way the Guild works in terms of democracy and representation.
BEMA wish to make it clear that we strongly support voting NO to both the proposed
Q1 (Democratic Structures Review) and
Q2 (Officer Review),
and we urge both our members and other voters to do the same.
Our previously-voiced concerns about the threat these proposals present to Liberation groups can be found here.
The issues these proposals present to campaigning within the Guild can be found here.
In-depth information about the proposals can be found here.
Issues of the undemocratic nature of the referendum can be found here.
The surrounding controversy on the subversion of democracy within the Guild can be found here.
So all that’s left for us is to (briefly) re-iterate the main reasons we oppose both the new referenda proposals – and particularly our belief that these proposals, if passed, would seriously inhibit the work that Liberation Associations can do on behalf of oppressed groups within the University, and further sideline us within the Guild’s decision-making bodies.
1) The new systems will further marginalise Liberation groups and interests
– If voted in, the Officer Review will remove all part-time Non-Sabbatical Officers, including the Liberation Officer positions of Ethnic Minorities, Women’s, LGBTQ and Disabled students’ officers (as well as the Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism Officer, Ethical & Environmental Officer etc.)
These Officers currently serve as guaranteed representation for Liberation groups within Guild decision-making bodies, are the most visible representatives of Liberation Associations and are elected by a significant proportion of Association members – you.
Their work has been invaluable in campaigning for and normalising Liberation issues within the wider Guild, and removing them is something none of us (and no current Officers) have asked for; instead we’ve consistently pushed for Non-Sabbatical Officers to receive more support from the Guild and have called for making them Full-time positions.
If Q2 passes, these Officers will be removed and replaced with, essentially, a Liberation ‘talking group’ advising Officers who may or may not listen to our issues, and who may or may not take our concerns on board.
This will ensure Liberation needs remain in the shadows of more ‘mainstream’ interests, with no representative to argue our case on our behalf – and no one involved in Review process has been able to reassure us that this won’t be the case.
Vague promises that Liberation will still remain core to the Guild hold no weight with us – we’ve been here before; we refuse to defer the terms of our Liberation to anyone else.
– The new democratic structures model proposed would reduce BEMA and Liberation group influence and input, replacing the representative Guild Council with a more mass-participation (but weaker) system that doesn’t account for the fact that issues that may affect us as BME students (and their solutions) might not be a concern for the majority (or for which the solution is necessarily uncomfortable for that power majority).
While Guild Council could be improved in many ways or replaced otherwise, this new system takes no measures to ensure BME representation isn’t drowned out by the desires of the White majority on campus, and the work that has been put in over years by Liberation groups to make the Guild’s democratic bodies more amenable to Liberation interests, would have been lost.
2) The new models are less democratic
– With an Officer team such as next year’s, where Ethnic Minority students are only represented in various Part-time Officers on the team, the influence of BME students over Guild decision making is already minimal.
The new Officer profile will further concentrate influence and power over the Guild’s direction into the seven Sabbatical Officers and non-student management, while the new democratic model will remove the ability to hold Officers to account/mandate them as effectively as we can now.
Given that BEMA already hold no confidence in at least one Officer of this year’s team, we won’t readily accept that any future Officer team will necessarily be any more trustworthy, or any more genuine about Liberation interests.
– The new democratic model will also occur less frequently and so make the Guild less responsive and reflexive as an organisation.
The multiple stages needed to pass policy are needlessly bureaucratic, and would make it unnecessarily difficult to pass any policy proposed by students for the Guild to take on.
Guild Council is where ‘blackface’ was banned from the Guild, Black History Month funding was secured, and where Liberation Associations ourselves achieved many victories to defend and support our members and their interests.
The potential for doing so in the future will be severely limited if the new model were to pass, as will the means for any nuanced, deliberative democracy as the ability to amend proposals has been removed in place of a hollow semi-democratic model.
The new model looks to be ineffective, inefficient and regressive – it will be a system that many people may be given tokenistic input into, but which very few will actually gain anything from.
3) These are options no-one wanted
While change to the Guild is necessary and can be positive, the new models were developed mainly by an external consultant using their own interpretation of survey data to create new systems that would ultimately prove harmful to the Guild and our interests – so while, nominally, students’ input may have been processed, these referenda don’t really reflect students’ desires much at all.
Student Officers involved in the project team have themselves spoken out against the proposals and their minimal involvement in the process, and us Liberation groups were not meaningfully consulted despite the changes affecting us and our work most.
A number of amendments were discussed and passed over numerous sessions of Guild Council that would have settled some of the main issues with the referendum options, but these were thrown out by the Guild’s Trustee Board – so in reality, the proposals in these referenda do not reflect anyone’s interests besides those of some management members and bureaucrats.
So with all these (and more) considered, BEMA strongly oppose both the proposed referendum questions and urge everyone to vote NO, to defend the interests of marginalised groups in the Guild and to ensure the Guild is run (at least somewhat) by students ourselves.