The Annual Members Meeting, self-described as ‘The Student Union’s largest democratic event’, was held on 18 February in the Anson Rooms, with over 300 attendees as the meeting opened.
A total of 11 motions were proposed, of which only 8 were debated due to time constraints. Of these, 7 motions passed.
However, Bristol SU bylaws state that there must be a minimum of 330 people present to reach quorum, and the failure to do so now means that all motions passed must be ratified by another vote at the next Student Council.
The only motion to be defeated was Motion 3: Ben Kew, the proponent, demanded a university-wide referendum on the Union’s ‘Safe Space policy’, arguing that the policy was at odds with freedom of speech. It was defeated by a significantly large margin, and saw many speakers opposing it. The most pertinent argument made was that the referendum would by default ‘silence the minority voices who the Safe Space policy seeks to protect.’ In addition, opposing speakers called attention to the fact that the Safe Space policy is already undergoing a process of review and change.
The digital voting system planned for night suffered technical problems and voting had to revert more rudimental methods.
The motion which was debated for the longest amount of time, and which passed by a relatively close 117-92 margin, was a proposal to divest from all goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This debate was emotionally wrought on both sides: one of the supporting speakers was Jude, who grew up in the West Bank and described the various injustices she faced under the occupation. She answered the various counter-arguments, which included suggestions that divestment from Israel would hurt Palestine too, with a passion that clearly won many over.
Closer to home, another hotly contested motion was one proposed by Ben Duncan-Duggal which urged the Union to take an officially pro-EU stance, a suggestion that gains pertinence after David Cameron’s recent announcement of the June referendum date. In addition, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Hugh Brady, has just signed an open letter from UK universities supporting the ‘In’ campaign. The letter stated ‘leaving would mean cutting ourselves off from established networks.’ Although many present at the AMM were indeed pro-EU, it was clear that many felt the EU was too divisive an issue for the SU to take a decisive stance on. The motion finally passed however, although the margin was close.
The less controversial motions that comfortably passed included a proposal for the Union to accept the Bristol Pound (Bristol’s city-wide local currency), supporting the campaign against the brutal conditions within the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, subsidising costs for students to attend the anti-racism demo in London and giving postgraduate students the choice to be paid monthly or quarterly.
A motion also passed to move the Students Union closer to campus: the proponent highlighted that the Richmond building would remain in use along with its facilities. Of course, this is a motion with a more long-term prospect, and its approval simply signifies the commencement of relocation discussion.
The evening commenced with a ‘Democracy Review’: Thomas Phipps, Union Affairs Officer, proposed some changes to the current democracy model of the SU. Under his proposed model, which was based on a consultation, formal decision making (such as the AMM) would be reduced, and opportunities for students to get proactively involved would be pushed through the creation of student ‘Networks’. However, this failed to get the ⅔ majority vote needed to pass.
Pro Vice-Chancellor Nick Lieven also addressed the audience concerning the university’s new plans to invest into the campus area, hinting at the refurbishment of the Arts and Social Sciences Library. He revealed the results of the #change1thing campaign, stating that most demands made by students centred on changing the sports and library facilities.
Not all students were satisfied with the meeting. Adam Becket, a third-year History student, commented that it was ‘’ridiculous that this is the way that decisions are made. I wasted an evening for democracy, and there weren’t even enough students there for it to be quorate.’
Indeed, the evening’s setbacks included a failure of the digital voting system, and a need to revert back to the more traditional manual counting of votes.
What did you make of the AMM? Is it democracy in action or does the format need a change? Let us know in the comments section below or on social media!