Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Conference-gate; what next?

In March, I was thrown out of USI Congress by my union delegation (Queen's University Students' Union) for voting in a few that contradicted my students' union policy. I  wrote about it at the time, and if you're reading this having not heard about what's happened, I'd advise you to read it only so we're on a similar page for the rest of the post.

When we got back, there was some clarity needed on how I was going to be 'punished'. Again, I wrote about it at the time, and again, I'd recommend you read that post before reading the rest of this.

Last night, the President of QUBSU proposed two motions at the Annual Business Meeting of QUBSU Council (our last meeting of the academic year) to ban me from standing as a QUBSU delegate for national conferences. One would ban me for standing next year, and the second, for the following year (amusingly, I'll have left university by then, but no matter). 

The vote was cast by secret ballot, with the President and I both given the chance to make two statements each. No one else was allowed to speak on the proposed motion.

The QUBSU Council voted down the motion to ban me for the year 2014/2015 (29 votes against, 24 votes in favour) and voted in favour of the motion to ban me for the year 2013/2014 (31 votes in favour, 23 votes against). They've told me that I now cannot stand as a QUBSU national conference delegate for next year.

They can't do this. 

In our union's constitution, it stipulates that delegates to NUS Conference and USI Congress shall be elected by cross campus ballot as in the Council elections (page 38). It also states that any student may offer themselves as a candidate in any Executive Management Committee Election provided that they complete a Nomination Form and return it in person to the Returning Officer before the close of nominations for the Executive Management Committee Election (page 35). The elections for conference delegations are held in a similar way to elections for Council and elections for the Executive Management Committee (ie, the sabbatical officers).


National Union of Students (NUS) and Union of Students in Ireland (USI)

10.1 Delegates to NUS Conference and USI Congress shall be elected by cross campus 
ballot as in the Council Elections.

10.2 One delegate to NUS Conference and two delegates to USI Congress may be 
appointed ex-officio.

10.3 All Election materials shall be regulated as in the Council Elections (see Rule 2, 
Section 7).

10.4 Nomination Forms shall be of similar format to those used in Executive Management 
Committee Elections and must be accompanied with a deposit of £40, which will be 
refunded after attendance at Conference. (2007 is the base year for this amount 
which will increase annually by the rate of RPI).

10.5 The Returning Officer shall post on authorised noticeboards at least 14 days before 
the date on which the Delegation Election is to be held a notice declaring:-

10.5.1 the number of delegates to be elected;
10.5.2 the dates and times for closure of nominations;
10.5.3 the dates and times of polling.

10.6 Nominations shall close on the eighth day before the date on which the relevant 
Election is to be held.

The equality and diversity policy of the union (page 77) states that the SU seeks to provide equality to all, irrespective of political opinion, and that the policy applies to all members of the students' union. There is also a mention of a complaints procedure (but nothing saying what it actually is) for those who feel that they have suffered any form of discrimination through the use of the union's representation services (page 79). Rule 4, Appendix 1 of the constitution stipulates that elected student officers (ie. the President and the other sabbaticals) shall be bound by the University’s Student Conduct Regulations, the Equality and Diversity Statement and other Equality Policies of the University and Students’ Union (page 50). 

Secondly, there is no process in the constitution to punish someone for voting against live policy at national conferences. No process. No mention of it. And considering it takes a special meeting and a 2/3 majority of student councillors or EMC members to remove an elected officer from their position (page 54), the move taken last night was unfounded, without precedent, and unconstitutional.

To sum up, the constitution of QUBSU, and in particular:

1. The combination of Rule 2 10.8 (which says that delegate elections will be held in the same manner as elections for the Executive Management Committee(; Rule 2 10.4 (which says that nominations for delegate elections are like those for EMC); and Rule 2 9.6.1 (which says that anyone can run in an election for EMC);

2. Chapter 1 8.2 (which says that the government of the union shall be based on the democratic principle that every ordinary member shall have the fullest opportunity to participate in union affairs);

3. Rule 10 2.2.4 (which says that political belief is a protected characteristic under the Equality & Diversity Policy;

4. Chapter 1 3.2, 3.9.2 & 3.9.4 (which states the aims of QUBSU as supporting equality of opportunity, freedom to participate in union elections, and the freedom of expression);

they had no grounds to do what they did, and I'll be happily handing in my nomination forms next year when nominations open for delegate elections to national conferences.