A Vote Of No Confidence (VONC) has been submitted against YUSU President Alex Urquhart, coming after the second suspension of the Policy Process this term, the procedure which determines new YUSU policy. In a subsequent post on his official YUSU Facebook page, Urquhart announced that the suspension was a result of a complaint against YUSU Policy Coordinator Josh Mackenzie and the Policy Review Group (PRG), with the process’ suspension being announced Wednesday morning via the official PRG Facebook page. This move has precipitated a backlash against Urquhart, leading to the submission of the VONC against him by former York Vision Editor-in-Chief Huw James, one of this round’s policy proposers.
The contention is that Policy Coordinator Mackenzie cannot be a committee member of a society, media group, sports club, or equivalent whilst holding the position of Policy Coordinator, an interpretation that Macknenzie contends is “unworkable”. If this interpretation is upheld by YUSU’s investigation into Mackenzie, it would come into direct conflict with Mackenzie’s roles as Managing Director of York Vision, Chief Projectionist for York Student Cinema, and President of ShockSoc. According to Mackenzie, the decision to investigate the complaint against him became clear at a meeting with the Full Time Officer Team at 9am this morning. It was also at this meeting that Urquhart informed him that due to the complaint, the PRG would be suspended.
The post from the PRG, which was also distributed to campus media in the form of a press release, was critical of Urquhart’s interpretation of YUSU by-laws, going as far as to question whether the YUSU President has the power to suspend the Policy Process. The evidence given for this questioning was Clause 16 of By-law 9 which states that Alex Urquhart, as President, takes “overall responsibility” for the fair running of the PRG, but does not explicitly state that the YUSU President has the power to suspend the process. This is the second suspension of the Policy Process to occur in the past year.
A subsequent announcement made on Urquhart’s own Facebook page confirmed the suspension. In the post, Urquhart detailed his reasoning for the suspension. The President, who will relinquish his position to YUSU President-elect James Durcan in just eight days, stated that as it is his responsibility to make sure the PRG is run fairly. To this vein, he wrote that he did not believe that with a complaint of this nature, the PRG could fairly decide policy until the matter had been investigated. Urquhart signed off with his assertion that the “integrity of the [policy] process is [his] absolute priority”.
The VONC against Urquhart in response to the suspension of the Policy Process was proposed by former York Vision Editor-in-Chief and Huw James. In the email that James sent to the PRG, he said that his grounds for a VONC stemmed from Urquhart’s “failure to allow the policy proposal to continue” and allowing “petty squabbling” to cause the process to collapse. James, who is a former member of the Liberal Democrat society committee, called Urquhart’s actions “grossly unprofessional” and called the entire furore a “major failure on YUSU’s behalf”.
Furthermore, James was apparently disgruntled that his policy submission to have YUSU mark the centenary of the end of the First World War had been part of the proposals that were scrapped in both the cancelled processes. When approached by Nouse, James said that although “YUSU CEO Ben Vulliamy argued that the voices of Students Unions should be celebrated”, the decision by Urquhart amounted to a silencing of those voices by YUSU.
Since the VONC was submitted, representatives of three of campus’ prominent political societies have released statements condemning the decision to suspend the PRG and stating their support for the VONC. Jack Galea, Co-Chair of the University of York Labour Club, told Nouse that Josh Mackenzie had his “full support”. Galea also stated his “disappointment” at the cancellation of the policy cycle and his support for “any calls for a vote of no confidence or censure” in the outgoing Full Time Officer Team.
This was later corroborated by a statement released by the York Tories in which they said they believed the decision was a “massive overreaction”. Later in their statement, they echoed the Galea’s statement, saying that they, “as a committee”, support the calls for a vote of no confidence.
Finally, the Liberal Democrat Society added to the support for the VONC and added that they believed Urquhart has attempted to avoid accountability for the decision by making it so close to the end of term, and the end of his own tenure as YUSU President.
Many students have already been made aware of the issues today. When asked, a third-year English student told Nouse that they believed “a vote of no confidence, this close to the end of Urquhart’s contract, is petty and cowardly” and that Mackenzie, in his capacity as Policy Coordinator is “meant to inform ‘the media’ when the process is not carried out fairly, yet as a member of student media the current Coordinator is implicitly biased.
When contacted by Nouse for comment, Urquhart said: “I respect the processes of the Union that allow students to take issue with my actions. My decision to suspend the policy process was made with a heavy heart but I stand by it completely. As President, I am responsible for this process to be conducted fairly and am I not satisfied that this is currently possible. I appreciate the effort taken by students and the importance of some of the policies, it is a frustrating position for me too, but the integrity of the process is my priority. I look forward to the investigation relating to the Motion of No Confidence proposed against me and will respect and adhere to any conclusions made.”
Whereas Mackenzie had this to say: “This morning I had a meeting with the Sabbs which culminated in Alex informing me that they were going to go ahead with the investigation into the motion of no confidence. The meeting started at 9, they told me this at like quarter past. At the end of that meeting, Alex told me he was suspending the policy process (as per the bylaw he referenced). As per the post I made earlier on the PRG Facebook page, I don’t agree with his interpretation.”