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What’s the Governance Referendum all about?

Do things need to change?

It is a truism that very few people understand how Hull University Union democracy works. I certainly include myself amongst those people and I was actually on the Union Council two years ago (I’m pretty sure we voted on banning reindeer from campus; tumultuous times indeed).

The last change to the way the students union was run was EIGHTY years ago and despite attempts to reform—including a referendum on whether to change the Vice President structure that was rejected by students 3 years ago—meaning that the current system has been in place almost since the birth of our university.

So how do things work at the moment and why have many people—led by the President of the Students’ Union—launched a referendum wanting to change things?

How does the current system work?

If a student wants to propose a change to the Council under the current system, you write and present a motion to the Council and a vote will be held. Most motions affecting day-to-day issues will be voted on and will pass with a simple majority of over 50%. If, however, a motion affects the way things are done (i.e. they affect the Union’s standing orders), the motion requires a super-majority of over 2/3 to pass.

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The current structure is undoubtedly angled toward representative democracy rather than direct democracy; in other words, whilst students can petition for changes, the primary structure is that of the representatives you elect making decisions and voting on motions mostly put forwards by either the 5 Vice Presidents or their fellow HUU Council representatives.

How would the new system work?

If you want to change things you can submit a proposal on the HUU website. If the proposal already actually exists or is a super small change, the Union will either let you know, or your elected Vice President for the area in question will be able to agree and pass the policy by themselves.

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If the policy is a more substantial matter it will go to a Student Panel made up of a randomly selected group representing a balance of men and women, LGBTQ+, Able-bodies and disabled students and BAME students. Your elected reps will also give feedback to inform the debate.

At this point the panel votes on the proposal: if 2/3 vote yes, the proposal passes and the student will work with the Presidents and part-time officers to implement the change; if 2/3 vote no, the motion dies. If the vote is split in-between, the motion then goes to a referendum of the student body.

The arguments for and against

The ‘no’ side of the referendum claim the proposed change is undemocratic, unrepresentative and unsustainable. They also claim the current system is easy to understand—if you want something changing just talk to your representative and they can raise the motion at HUU Council—and it’s more democratic than the proposed new system.

The ‘yes’ side of the referendum argue that the current system is not representative of the student body and the new system will better represent minority groups. They also argue the proposed new system will open up HUU democracy to everyone by asking you what you think on certain issues, making the system more transparent, accessible and transparent.

The voting is open from the 12th to the 15th of March and you can vote here.