‘Democracy doesn’t matter’ – SUSU Councillor at Emergency Meeting

At yesterday’s Emergency Union Council Meeting, heated words were exchanged about the rebrand date.



What happened?

At the Emergency Union Council Meeting yesterday, the Union Council voted for a referendum on the rebrand being held before the summer holiday by 19 votes to 12. In the meeting there appeared to be a divide in the room, on the one side was the faction supporting the Democracy Zone who believed the voting ought to be postponed.

The underlying point that the Democracy Zone or ‘Sabbs’ relied on was the idea that the future freshers should have an opinion on the referendum. It was at this point that it was noted by a member of the floor that this would discount approximately a third of the students who it currently affects since they are in third year.

This drew considerable support from the audience, prompting Union Councillor Kokulan Mahendiran to ask “how can we call for the Democracy Zone to take the interests of future students into account when the reason we’re here is that they haven’t represented the interests of current members?” Here he has raised a valid point, by making the referendum happen next year it means taking into account the opinions of those members who do not actually exist.

‘The ballot is stronger than the bullet’ – Abraham Lincoln

This view on whether or not to postpone the referendum has led many within the Council to question the manner in which the Union is run, indeed the future President Alex Hovden, stated we ‘have to consider the underlying democratic principles’ on which the Union is based.

Moreover, members of the floor were prompted to invoke their right to speak when it transpired that, in the event of a tie in the voting on whether or not to proceed with a referendum, it would be up to Ben Franklin, who proposed the rebrand (with arguably questionable motives) to decide on what should happen. This raises the question of whether the Union is able to function properly and impartially when the executive decision is made by someone with a conflict of interest.

As such, Rebecca Lake, another of the vocal Union Councillors commented the lack of impartiality. Kieran Reals responded vehemently, shouting ‘democracy doesn’t matter,’ at which point he swore and when called up on this proceeded to lambast a member of the audience yelling ‘If you want me to swear, I’ll swear some more!’

This is the way that our Union is run. We have people swearing in meetings and putting down ordinary students who wish to have their voices heard. Shocking. This lackadaisical attitude was furthered by Shruti Verma (one of the Sabbs) who remarked to the person next to her ‘I want to be anywhere but here.’ I find it abhorrent that someone elected by the student body to represent their wishes and views can act in such a manner, this can be seen as a dereliction of duty, and really ought to be noted by all.

“Errors do not cease to be errors simply because they’re ratified into law” – E.A. Bucchianeri

The ‘Sabbs’ or Sabbatical Officers have come under a lot of fire recently from a large section of the student community, as illustrated by activity on Facebook and YikYak. Such is the obstinacy of the Sabbs they have proceeded to ignore a petition on Change.org calling it a ‘small and vocal minority.’ This petition garnered approximately 2,000 votes, Ben Franklin got voted in with around 3,000. And yet the Sabbs wish to reduce this ‘minority’ further by holding the referendum next year when those affected who are now in third year won’t have a say, moreover these banned voters are the ones who voted the Sabbs in!

The shortcomings of the Union have not stopped here; it has transpired that Union President Ben Franklin withheld information from the Union Council. Multiple sources on the Council confirmed  a survey to see who wanted a rebrand was held from the Council until after they voted on the decision to pass it.

The reason can be explained simply, the results showed that only 9.6% of people thought the original brand was bad, how is that for a ‘small and vocal minority’? Moreover, Rebecca Lake stated the Council believed the rebrand would cost £10,000, the real figure is £31,000! There has been outcry over this on social media with some questioning the cuts made by SUSU, including to the Safety Bus, whilst there has been lavish expenditure on follies made to aggrandise the egos of the Sabbs and presumably supplement their CVs.

How to solve a problem like SUSU?

And so we are left with a Union that has been badly governed, and ignores its members. This is evident through the lack of transparency of those involved, after the meeting I wanted to ask the Sabbs on how they voted on the timing of the referendum. Ben Franklin was the first to leave so I could not ask him, Sam Bailey refused to comment at the time and Kerry Sclater voted to postpone it, denying the third years a vote.

Though there is hope, with a growing dissent amongst the Union Councillors and students alike we might assume Alex Hovden is going to make for a much better President as of September. Through his rhetoric a greater transparency might hopefully be achieved. This ought to lead to a Union that we might actually be proud of. Now wouldn’t that be nice!