Democracy is at the heart of the society in which we live. It seems obvious; the more people involved at decision making level enables a greater number of views from a wider cross-section of interests to be taken into consideration, leading to a more balanced and more representative decision.
This was the attitude at the heart of YUSU’s democratic review at their UGM. They sought to reorganise the democratic structure of the organisation after they deemed it to have become “fragmentary and […] out-dated.” It was one that met with approval, as the new societies committee was born. Designed to fundamentally alter the way money is dished out to societies, it is an eight person committee comprising members from all different types of on campus groups, to help ensure that grants are evenly distributed between them. Just one problem; despite an electorate keen to back its creation, they appear to have been less keen to back it in practice, as the committee is yet to see the appointment of its first member.
The lengthy “notice of co-option”, listing a whole series of unfilled positions, serves more to undermine YUSU’s democratic review than it does lead the way to an era of reform.
It would appear to be a question of responsibility. It is far easier to tick a box on a piece of paper than to engage in long hours of service to support the idea that seemed so convincing to begin with. Those who are prepared to advocate something on paper need to be equally prepared to support it in practice. Any sort of structural reform is meaningless without the commitment to take on the new roles and see them become something more than titles on a page.
Yet the lack of information surrounding these elections could just as well account for the extensive list of vacancies surrounding the new positions. There appears to have been strictly limited information regarding when they were to take place, while even the knowledge of their existence may not have reached many would be candidates around campus.
Regardless of the reasons for its less than spectacular creation, the situation needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency. It is ironic, that a motion designed to improve the distribution of grants for societies could leave them in an extended limbo. Under the new regulations, grants of over five per cent of the overall budget will need to have express approval from the societies committee. Without an uptake in these positions, it is unclear what YUSU would do in the event of such an application. Given that the posts are designed to bring together a committee representing all the different types of societies, anything less than full uptake would make the system less fair, with some having less representation than others. Despite its brief to facilitate cooperation between societies, such an imbalance of power could have the opposite effect with some societies potentially feeling resentful at the excessive influence of others.
While the principle of giving member societies a more active say in the distribution of YUSU money is an admirable one, with anything less than full support it will serve to create more problems than it solves. It is difficult to see how YUSU’s democratic review can claim to have achieved any of its objectives with such limited outside support.
While Nick Scarlett sought to put a positive spin on things by claiming that “the lack of anyone running […] can be an opportunity for the societies committee to finally take shape”, the fact that “pre-election interest” failed to materialise into concrete nominations must surely be a cause for concern if there is such little enthusiasm for the direction in which YUSU seeks to go. If members for this committee can’t be found then these reforms need to be reconsidered, while for those who supported them, the old adage of “putting your money where your mouth is” is one that springs to mind.