Disclaimer: Although Wessex Scene are a SUSU-affiliated Union Group, the views of SUSU don’t necessarily represent the views of the publication as a whole. As with any political event, Wessex Scene as a publication are remaining neutral. However, we are as always happy to give individual students a platform to express their views in our Opinion section.
Following SUSU’s statement of condemnation regarding the prorogation of Parliament, the Presidents, committee members and society representatives of Southampton University Labour Society and Southampton University Conservative association have penned and co-signed a letter demanding SUSU to repudiate their March 2019 All Student Vote. The All-Student Vote concerned whether SUSU should support the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign, with 82.9% of those surveyed voting the affirmative. The voting turnout was 17.9% of University of Southampton students.
The letter argues that the vote was conducted in an ‘undemocratic’ manner. The writer of the letter states that ‘there is a universal precedent that elections and referenda require a reasonable window of notice be given to the electorate’; they then goes on to claim that SUSU failed to follow this precedent, as they note that there was ‘a meagre three days between the referendum’s announcement and the closing of the polls’.
Because of the three-day turnaround- which the writer of the letter claims was ‘a devious means of the 2018-19 SUSU Sabbatical Team acquiring a shaky mandate for their own political positions’ – the letter notes that there wasn’t enough time to campaign, with the writer arguing that:
The three-day election window ensured that anyone concerned with the outcome of the vote could not campaign, an activity which can take weeks of planning and preparation to ensure a meaningful effect. We note that no campaigning took place and that Wessex Scene was unable to provide the high level of analysis and scrutiny over this vote that we have come to expect from our student newspaper.
The letter also alleges that voters weren’t properly educated/informed on what exactly they were voting for. It is claimed that during the voting period, students were not informed that a vote for the affirmative would lead to SUSU affiliating with For Our Future’s Sake – an organisation that SUSU apparently also failed to properly educate the students on.
In light of these accusations, the letter dubs SUSU’s All-Student Vote as having a ‘misleading framing’:
.. the referendum was perceived as a straightforward vote on backing a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU or not. In fact, the question points more towards affiliation with People’s Vote, an entirely separate pro-EU campaign group.
Other reasons the letter cites for considering SUSU’s mandate being invalid include the turnout being too small to justify ‘a meaningful mandate for a decision of this scale’, the ‘brevity of the election window’ restricting the turnout and the 2018/2019 Sabbatical Team ‘steamroll[ing]their own views’ into the AGM debate that provided a mandate for the All-Student Vote as well as the vote itself.
Consequently, the undersigned in the letter are calling for ‘a fresh All-Student Vote with transparency and democracy at its heart’.
However, the Southampton University Liberal Democrats have made it clear that they disagree with SULS and SUCA, stating that:
It’s disappointing to see the Labour and Conservative societies still opposing SUSU’s decision to back a People’s Vote. Southampton benefits enormously from our EU membership, and SUSU is right to recognise its importance. Turnout was similar to other internal elections: a 20% turnout was recorded in the Spring elections. We believe this has more to do with internal society politics than a genuine desire to represent students.
Furthermore, in response to criticism of SUSU in the open letter, Union President Emily Harrison said:
The All Student Vote run in March 2019 regarding support for a second referendum was run fully in line with the Union’s rules on democratic processes. With regards to voter engagement and awareness, every member of the student body was emailed to make them aware of the vote, it received the highest turnout we’ve had for any all student vote, and was well over the quorum set in the Union’s rules. Re-running the vote less than 6 months after the original vote when there are no procedural problems with it would be an unnecessary waste of Union time and resource. As such, we will be continuing to do everything we can to respect the outcome of the vote and campaign to support a second referendum, as the 82.9% of students who voted in support of one have asked us to. The Sabbatical team is continuously dedicated to working with the university to put plans in place to mitigate risks, relay important information to students, and work with them ensure our university continues to value students from all backgrounds. If anyone would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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