The Students’ Union have admitted that they misrepresented advice from experts when passing the new constitution in an Executive Committee meeting last week.
The Committee had to decide whether abstentions from a UGM held in the previous week should be counted towards the vote, which would determine if the proposed constitution had passed.
The online UGM in week eight had initially ruled that the proposed constitution had failed to receive enough votes, with 64.9 per cent in favour not enough for the two thirds majority it needed.
However, this verdict was disputed by a student who argued that if abstentions were discounted, the constitution would have passed with 66 per cent of the vote in favour.
After holding two inquorate Emergency General Meetings, the Executive Committee were called into a late night session where they decided that abstentions should not count towards the vote and ruled that the new constitution had therefore passed.
When asked how they came to a decision, Students’ Union President, Micky Armstrong, assured students that they had based it on “substantial research”.
“After seeking advice and receiving information from various sources, the Executive Committee was given the decision to make regarding the interpretation of the constitution” he said.
Armstrong and several other SU officers claimed to have sought advice from a variety of constiutional experts, including law professors from Durham, Warwick and UCL, as well as Dr. John Cagle from California State University, the Electoral Reform Society and the Electoral Commission.
The Executive Committee were advised that these experts had been briefed on the situation at York and had told the Students’ Union that the new constitution should have passed.
However, the Students’ Union’s research reveals that none of the experts consulted were able to give a conclusive answer and all had said that they needed more time to look into the situation.
Dawn Oliver, a Professor of Law at UCL, said: “I am afraid I do not know of any case law or academic articles on this topic off hand, and unfortunately I do not have time to do research into it”.
George Meszaros, a Professor at Warwick, told the SU that he would not be the best person to consult and they should instead contact one of his colleagues. Unfortunately, the SU did not follow up this lead.
Iain Leigh, a Professor of Law at Durham University, stated: “This is obviously a complex issue where I hesitate to give a definite answer.”
He did, however, add: “In your present situation the amendment would fall below the required threshold and would not pass”, a conflicting account to the one given at the Executive Committee.
Gemma Thomas, Press Officer of the Electoral Commission, said: “We really wouldn’t have given advice on this, because we only give advice on statutory elections.
“I’ve worked here for a long time, and I can’t remember ever giving advice on any one else’s election.”
When questioned on the reliability of these sources, the SU President commented: “Obviously what people deem as advice is different.”
Commenting on the episode, one student said “This is the most disgraceful move YUSU has made during my time at York. I am saddened at the complete disregard for the principles of democracy on which YUSU is supposedly based.”
Nouse has polled 206 students – the number required to reach quorum at Monday’s EGM – about their views on the recent events concerning the constitution.
38% of students said they agreed with the new constitution
15% of students said they didn’t agree with the new constitution
43% of students said they didn’t know anything about the constitution
51% of students said they would have voted against the motion to discount abstentions had they been at the EGM on Monday
22% of students said they would have voted for the motion to discount abstentions had they been at the EGM on Monday
27% of students said they would have abstained from voting had they been at the EGM on Monday
If abstentions are discounted from the poll, as the Students’ Union would probably interpret it, the percentage of students who said they would have voted against the move to discount absentions rises from 51% to 69%
The Union’s panel of experts
“I am afraid I do not know of any case law or academic articles on this topic off hand, and unfortunately I do not have time to do research into it” Dawn Oliver, UCL
“This is obviously a complex issue where I hesitate to give a definite answer” Iain Leigh, Durham University
“I’ve worked here for a long time, and I can’t remember ever giving advice on any one else’s election.” Gemma Thomas, Electoral Commission