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Tedious democracy

Wednesday 20th October saw the first successful UMSU General Meeting in 18 months, with six motions being passed. Yet whilst I was in the meeting I began to understand why it rarely reaches quorum. The whole process is wrapped in bureaucratic red tape, making it dull and boring; for every motion at least four speeches are made, with room for questions in which the speakers just tended to repeat themselves. If someone wants a motion to go straight to vote, then another two speeches are made.Most people that come to General Meetings come to support or to block a particular motion. These people come with their minds already made up. Case in point:  this reporter believes that Manchester Labour Students (MLS) and J-Soc (Jewish society) came to the General Meeting in order to block the Peace Through Education motion, by leaving the meeting at a crucial point, in what appears to have been an attempt to break quorum. If that is the case, then they had just come to the meeting with their minds already made up, so what was the purpose of all the speeches anyway?

General Meetings would be more productive, and enjoyable, if there was a one-minute summary of both sides, five minutes for questions, then a vote. All the essential information is in the agenda, which is published online in advance. No-one appears to know this though, so I would call for UMSU to publicise this fact. Then, students can make their minds up as to where to stand on the issues that are to be discussed. The agenda should also be available in the Student Unions, (possibly in this paper) so that students can read and discuss the motions before the meetings. This would make the meetings snappier, making the experience a better one for everyone. The result: more students attending general meetings, more motions being passed.

I was pleased to see that the Students in Charge of the Union motion were bolstered up to the top of the list and that students voted in favour of it. This means that in the upcoming months there will be a referendum on online voting, which I think is a brilliant idea and might end the need for General Meetings altogether. Speaking against this, was one student who was concerned about online voting as he felt that we would lose the democratic atmosphere. He said, “Doesn’t it feel good to come here, in person and partake in a democratic process?” My answer: No, not really.

I have essays and articles to be writing, I want this to be swift and effective. This does not feel “good” it feels like time wasting. This particular speaker had not planned a speech, and was not competent at answering questions with the likes of: “No one had a statement against it, so I thought I’d have a go” The chair should have intervened and saved time, but due to the aforementioned red tape, was not in a position to do so.  If we want a real democratic process we need online voting, and we need more common sense and efficiency – that is the way to combat student apathy.

Tags: General Meeting, Yasna Hawksley

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