In a historic night for the Union, Tuesday’s General Assembly was the first since 2014 in which enough people showed up for the meeting to actually go ahead, so that advisory motions could be passed.
The biggest talking point of the night was the spirited, sometimes emotional debate over a motion to prohibit the use of portable voting devices during election campaigns. In other words, the motion was about people in election season using iPads to get lots of students to vote quickly.
“This is, like, not a democracy,” spluttered Ben Towse, a PhD Neuroscience student who proposed the motion and who has been a part of student politics since God knows when. He alleged that the canvassing method, prohibited at most other students’ unions, often leads to harassment and coercion, and undermines union democracy.
This argument is not without merit. In 2015, Asad Kahn was docked a percentage of his votes for tricking students into voting on iPads.
The motion was met with opposition from many students and other sabbs, including the Welfare and International Officer Aiysha Qureshi.
The argument that the motion specifically targeted Muslim candidates, was a major point in the debate. The canvassing strategy is used most commonly by students backed by the Islamic Society, and the prohibition of iPads would disenfranchise Muslim students the most.
“Sorry if you don’t have a big friend group, but this is how elections are won” said Farooq*, a third year Computer Science student, arguing against the motion. He was then forced to retract his comment under pressure from the Chair.
“In general if a person doesn’t have friends they won’t win an election” he continued. This too was retracted, sparing the feelings of all social outcasts in the room.
The motion gained a majority, but fell short of the 75% support necessary to amend the constitution, which the Union Council, who are meeting today at 5pm, would have been “urged” to ratify.
The meeting passed three further motions including changes to Union sexual harassment policy (though what this actually entails is still unclear), support for direct action against the university over mental health issues, and support of staff strikes over pensions.
*This student later asked for his surname to be retracted