March 05, 2006

Referenda Results

Financially Supporting and Advising Pregnant Students of Their Choices (CARRIED)

For: 59.9%

Against: 30.6%

Abstain: 9.5%

Votes: 1577

Restricting positive gender discrimination (CARRIED)

For: 70.8%

Against: 16.3%

Abstain: 12.9%

Votes: 1548

Ensuring Freedom of Speech for Media Societies (CARRIED)

For: 66.3%

Against: 21.9%

Abstain: 11.8%

Votes: 1512

Fairtrade and Ethical Supplies in the Union (CARRIED)

For: 79.2%

Against: 15.2%

Abstain: 5.6%

Votes: 1650

Updating our Constitution (CARRIED)

For: 64.3%

Against: 9.5%

Abstain: 26.2%

Votes: 1478

Comment (now expanded and updated!)

So my motion 'Restricting Positive Gender Discrimination' passed, and council got it wrong. I feel ever so slightly vindicated. I just have to make sure Exec makes the changes to the appendicies that the students want.

The point that all refereda motions get passed was raised on another blog, and I was thinking that a referendum gets a lot of publicity and you get a chunk of money to campaign with, so a referenda motion is a great tool to advertise with.

Also the fact that only just above 10% of the student population decided to vote is really crappy.

- 41 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Although it's an unwritten rule of referenda that everything passes anyway, because no-one bothers to read the motions.

    05 Mar 2006, 10:29

  2. Not sure exactly how it makes the council wrong really.

    05 Mar 2006, 11:09

  3. Council never voted on this motion, but it was put before them, and you could tell that the majority of council was going to vote against. Council were wrong in the sense that they wouldn't have represented the student's views correctly.

    05 Mar 2006, 11:51

  4. Every student I spoke to didn't understand the motion due to the confusing wording of the both the argument and the counter argument. Plus what was said in comment 1.

    05 Mar 2006, 12:29

  5. I think very few people are ever in favour of positive discrimination in any circumstances unless it's been personally explained to them why they might be in some limited circumstances. As this isn't a particularly quick thing to do it's not at all surprising a referendum motion against positive discrimination passed.

    The reason the argument and counter argument were particularly confusing was that the author of the motion didn't define what he meant by the words "exceptional circumstances" (in which the Union can support and use positive discrimination) thus leaving the motion very open to interpretation.

    05 Mar 2006, 15:02

  6. It's also not the job of Union Councillors to say what they think all students want, it's their job to say what they think. That's why they are elected using a system of proportional representation.

    05 Mar 2006, 15:05

  7. Nicholas, I think you're wrong, I don't think the views of most councillors would align with the views of the students from the departments they represent. I think that gender discrimination boils down to a simple moral decision about the rights and wrongs of discrimination, and that most students are capable of making that decision.

    I freely admit that 'Exceptional Circumstances' is unclear in the policy and that was a huge oversight on my part, but by using that point to campaign on only served to confuse the students. At least my policy didn't hide anything, and it's title was reflective of what it did.

    05 Mar 2006, 15:50

  8. At least my policy didn't hide anything

    If most people couldn't understand it then it was clearly hiding something, whether by accident or design.

    It's also a far more complex issue that just being a case of positive discrimination = discrimination.

    05 Mar 2006, 16:18

  9. Steven, I guess you are implying that the policy "Financially Supporting And Advising Pregnant Students Of Their Choices", the final draft of which I wrote on the basis of a submitted motion written by Kat Stark (who had the idea for a fund) and me (I had the idea of the motion), hid the fact that it supported a pro-choice position. I think the description, presented on the voting screen, which Composite set (and which you may remember I didn't object to):

    To provide funds and support to pregnant students. To change the Union’s current ‘No Stance’ policy on abortion to a ‘Pro-Choice’ policy on abortion.

    makes the result of the motion fairly clear even if the line in the policy:

    This Union Believes:
    2. That women have the right to determine what happens to their own bodies and that this includes the right to an abortion.


    05 Mar 2006, 18:47

  10. Steven, presumably you're aware that as 'exceptional circumstances' aren't defined by the policy, the President of the Union has the role of interpreting that (and thus the policy potentially opens up the possibility of greater use of positive discrimination if the President feels that there are 'exceptional circumstances').

    05 Mar 2006, 21:34

  11. Yes, I am aware of this, but Exec can define them as they go into the appendix. And as Exec are a lovely bunch of people I'm sure they'll act in good faith and in line with the rest of the policy. Besides if they did do that they would never, ever hear the end of it.

    05 Mar 2006, 21:42

  12. Oh well, at least 3/5 of the results were as I voted… Makes a change that on the whole the union went in my favour with voting outcomes!

    05 Mar 2006, 22:36

  13. Christopher Rossdale

    Nicholas – i think the claims are based more around people not wanting to vote down the pensions fund, and thus having to vote for the pro-choice policy. The option over individual parts was not presented – i would have preferred this motion to have been put forwards in two parts. We can have a no-stance position on abortion whilst still supporting pregnant students. The students clearly voted to abolish pro-choice last referendum, but it was obvious that they wouldn't vote against a fund for pregnant students. If there was a motion to make entry free to all union events, with the subclause that no parts of the smoking ban would be introduced, then that would pass as well – obviously not going to happen, but it seems like that type of logic.

    05 Mar 2006, 23:38

  14. Chris, (assuming you mean "the pregnant students fund" rather than "the pensions fund") I think this just comes down to a difference of opinion. I, and the other people behind the motion, believe that the Union having a pro-choice stance can enable us to better help students who become pregnant and you don't.

    If the Union already had a pro-choice policy then we might not have put the pregnant students fund to referendum, putting it to Union Council or a General Meeting instead, but wherever it was presented it would have included a line about a woman's right to choose. What I'm saying is that the line wasn't just there to change the prior Union policy.

    Also remember that students also voted to pass a very strong pro-choice policy this time last year. I think the past three referendum results show that our students generally support a pro-choice position but don't see the reason why the Union needs to. If the Union managed improve its ability to communicate why such issues do matter to students at Warwick this might change.

    06 Mar 2006, 10:04

  15. Christopher Rossdale

    So why does the union need a pro-choice position? Helping students in need is already part of its mandate, there's no reason a no-stance position would stop it from doing this. (and yes, don't know how on earth i mixed up pensions and pregnant!) (hmm, few years, and we might need a pensions fund!)

    06 Mar 2006, 11:23

  16. what about a fund for guys that get a bird up the duff?

    06 Mar 2006, 13:13

  17. What about a fund for guys who haven't had any in over a year and desperately need to invest in some sort of cosmetic surgery to rectify the problem? We need to focus on the real issues here; we can't allow ourselves to get bogged down in feminist literature when ugly men are suffering all over campus.

    06 Mar 2006, 15:32

  18. Nicholas,

    Your motion was entitled "Financially Supporting Pregnant Students and Informing them of their Choices." I'm not sure who would disagree with that.

    Last term, students voted for a motion entitled, "This Union shall take no stance on the issue of abortion." That's quite contentious.

    The title of your motion was misleading and obscured the fact that it gave the Union a pro-choice stance. Moreover, it downplays the most contentious element of the motion – the pro-choice policy on abortion – and instead emphasizes "financial support for pregnant students," which is largely unconententious. This is dishonest and undemocratic.

    You may argue that reading the policy reveals what it actually does, but this assumption on your part raises some serious problems:

    – by your logic, the title of a motion need not have anything to do with the substantive content of that motion. The logical consequence of this is that any sensible person proposing a controversial new policy will add a significant amount of related but uncontroversial material to allow them to argue in favour of a pleasant-sounding but misleading title.

    – You are right that what the motion actually does is explained on the Union site before voting. However, the 'pro-choice' part of the policy was not mentioned in any of the publicity by the campaign for the policy, and I find it likely that many students, reading the title "supporting pregnant students . . .", didn't bother to read any more of the policy before voting. If it weren't for my work for the Boar, I probably would not have read the actual policy either, assuming in my naive mind that the Union actually cared about fairness and democracy. I see that I was completely mistaken.

    06 Mar 2006, 16:20

  19. Just to add to that, I'm curious: if the campaign for this motion felt that adopting a pro-choice policy were such an obvious decision for the students of Warwick to take, why did it not place any emphasis whatsoever on this part of the policy in its publicity? If it genuinely is such an obvious and uncontentious change, why not publicize that part of the policy widely?

    The fact is that nobody wanted to do that because nobody had any plans whatsoever to pursue a "pro-choice" policy for the Union in a democratic manner.

    06 Mar 2006, 16:23

  20. Christopher Rossdale

    I've also spoken to a number of people who were very against the pro-choice position, but who didn't want to vote down the fund because of it – they were shocked that i did. The beauty of referenda is that it means we can have single issue debates – rather than have to choose between one set of proposals and another, a la political parties. Combining motions like this takes away that advantage.

    06 Mar 2006, 17:35

  21. The motion title "Financially Supporting And Advising Pregnant Students Of Their Choices" was set, by Composite Committee not me, to reflect the primary effect of the motion. The motion resolves to do a number of things in order to set up a Pregnant Students Fund and this was reflected in the title. In addition the motion states a belief which implies a pro-choice position and resolves to remove the old "no-stance" policy. However, as the motion doesn't actually resolve to do anything about that pro-choice position other than believe in it that wasn't felt to be the most important thing to include in the title and there was a wish for the title not to be too long (otherwise it's just another description – and the description did include the pro-choice element).

    I'm not disputing that the pro-choice element of the motion was the most contentious part but, in terms of what the direct effects of the motion on what the Union does will be, it isn't the largest part. It's true that the new policy allows other motions which would otherwise have been prevented and that these can in turn have other, more significant, effects. However, considered under the most objective criteria I can think of which is the amounts of money involved, these effects are unlikely to be anywhere near as large as the fund itself.

    It was made clear on the voting page of the Union website and the page users see when voting that the motion involved a pro-choice element, so people didn't have to read the entire motion in order to understand that. The publicity used to persuade people to vote for the motion focussed on what is the most important effect of the motion, the creation of a Pregant Students Fund. Even though it isn't the job of those campaigning in favour of something to point out reasons to vote against it, I added a note about pro-choice to the online argument once I realised there wasn't going to be an effective against campaign (mostly in order not to seem duplicitous) but at that point our printed publicity had already been produced.

    It's true that referenda are, by their nature, not really suitable for discussing something more complex than a single issue (and multiple voting options don't really work very well either) but I do think this issue is really too big for Union Council and the number of people who turn up for General Meetings is normally too low to be representative.

    On that note there is a Union Emergency General Meeting in MS.02 (Maths Building) at 6pm on Thursday this week. It was called by the President because the Comercial Development and Communications Officer (Nick Seagrave) was unhappy with the manner in which a decision was taken by Union Council last Thursday to lobby for a ban of Coca-Cola by NUS Services Limited (from whom the Union buys most of what it sells). However, there is a good chance there will also be a motion on the Union affiliating to Abortion Rights (by a good chance I mean the motion was submitted but there's a chance it may be withdrawn later due to timing conflicts with events during International Women's Week).

    06 Mar 2006, 19:25

  22. james, you legend. we are such a team.

    06 Mar 2006, 21:30

  23. Want to form a coalition?

    06 Mar 2006, 23:03

  24. hell yes.

    07 Mar 2006, 03:19

  25. Nick, I don't suppose you know what this 'Dogs and Rolf Harris' motion is about do you? I just read the title on the union website and am amused.

    07 Mar 2006, 03:57

  26. Some people submitted a motion to the General Meeting which was, I think, meant to be something of a parody of the "Financially Supporting And Advising Pregnant Students Of Their Choices" to referendum. It talked a lot about dogs and small puppies and wanted to set up a fund to support small lost puppies – and to make the Union "pro-life". Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective), as there is no benefit to students as students, the Union can't legally use its resources to set up a fund to support dogs and a motion to a General Meetings can't overturn a belief in a pro-choice view passed at referendum. As the Union can only reject the illegal or unconstitutional parts of submitted policies we were left with a motion which believed a couple of things about dogs and a little about Rolf Harris (I'm guessing in the context of his presenting Animal Hospital); it didn't actually resolve to do anything.

    As the title has gone from the Union website I'm guessing the motion has now been withdrawn by the proposer.

    07 Mar 2006, 09:51

  27. On checking my Union email I see the motion was definitely withdrawn.

    07 Mar 2006, 09:53

  28. Reading what I wrote yesterday I said:

    Even though it isn't the job of those campaigning in favour of something to point out reasons to vote against it, I added a note about pro-choice to the online argument

    Which implies I think the fact something is pro-choice is a reason to vote against it; I actually take the opposite view. What I meant was that I added it, although it wasn't the point of the motion, in order that those who didn't expect pro-choice to be part of a motion with that title weren't surprised by its inclusion and thus more inclined to vote against the motion.

    07 Mar 2006, 10:31

  29. A quick point about the 'Dogs and Rolf Harris' motion, as inevitably there will be blog rumours about it…

    Any student can propose a policy on any issue and it will subsequently be taken to either Steering or Composite working groups (for Council/GMs and referenda, respectively) to make sure it is clear, accurate and not 'ultra vires'. Some of these meetings can go on for several hours – in fact, the last meeting of Composite was six and a half hours long.

    In the case of this motion, the proposer decided to withdraw it – without any pressure from the Union I might add, before conspiracy theories start rearing their ugly heads. However, in future, if an individual wants to put forward a motion to make a point about something, as opposed to actually resolving to do something substantive and meaningful, I would suggest that this isn't a good idea. It is usually unproductive and, in this case, it wasted the valuable time of Union staff, as well as those students who sit the relevant afforementioned working group.

    Whilst a little humour here and there is generally accepted, even welcomed, it is both annoying and almost always wasteful when something like this crops up.

    07 Mar 2006, 11:35

  30. I have withdrawn my motion (and summarily explained and apologised to jacquie), apparently you can't get just any old peice of tat about abortion passed… I still maintain that it was mostly about puppies.

    07 Mar 2006, 12:32

  31. After perhaps both the funniest and strangest steering ever, I spoke to Tom about his proposed motion 'Feeding stray puppies and abortion', he explained to me that he was trying to make a point about the abortion policy that recently passed at referendum. He is of course genuinely sorry to anyone who was caused undue stress by this motion being submitted. However Tom raises a serious point with this silly policy, that he felt, as do others, that the abortion policy changed the Union's stance without explicitly stating it. Tom felt that "hiding" that line within a policy that was otherwise going to clearly pass, was not only dishonest, but undemocratic.

    For those who want to read the original motion, as submitted to steering, you can view it: here

    07 Mar 2006, 13:52

  32. Um, the motion didn't exactly hide what it did; the question formulated by composite was:

    To provide funds and support to pregnant students. To change the Union’s current ‘No Stance’ policy on abortion to a ‘Pro-Choice’ policy on abortion.

    07 Mar 2006, 14:16

  33. Righto, and were does the question go now the policy is passed? Its not in the policy, plain and simple.

    07 Mar 2006, 14:57

  34. I thought your objection was that people didn't know what they were voting for. Anyway, it says in 'Believes 2':

    That women have the right to determine what happens to their own bodies and that this includes the right to an abortion.


    To lapse Policy 627, ‘This Union Will Take No Stance On The Issue of Abortion.’

    I'm not quite sure what the problem here is.

    07 Mar 2006, 15:03

  35. If you were looking at the policy file "Financially Supporting and Advising Pregnant students of their Choices" wouldn't seem that controversial, it hides the fact that is pro-choice.
    I would have preferred two motions, one for the fund, one for pro-choice, I could have then joined the campaign to pass the pro-choice motion with a clear conscience.

    07 Mar 2006, 15:12

  36. That dog thing is hilarious. How about a fund for students who wish to have dogs or other pets, to help them with food and clothing costs, with a hidden clause to support a pro-choice stance on putting the pet down if it gets sick or the student can't be bothered with it anymore.

    07 Mar 2006, 15:24

  37. The Union, and Elections Group in particular, love to go on about how elections and referenda must be free and fair and impartial and unbiased. Despite this, the Union let a misleadingly titled motion, against which there was no campaign because nobody knew what it actually did, go to referenda without any requirement that the campaign for the motion actually tell anyone what the most contentious point of it was.

    I didn't realize what the motion actually did until I was compelled to read it as a result of my work for the Boar, and had I not been so obligated, I would probably have looked at the title and assumed it wasn't worth my time to consider. The only way anyone would have read the motion, or even seen the second description, before campaign groups were formed is if they had seen the main title and decided it was interesting enough to click on a link to the extended descriptions. Since the main title didn't mention the most significant part of the motion, that never happened.

    Free, fair, and oh-so honest. I have to congratulate the Union, actually—a beautiful abuse of the democratic system that will surely encourage more and more students to get involved in Union democracy.

    07 Mar 2006, 21:02

  38. Matt, the first time anything can be done about the wording of motions is at Composite, at which time the referendum question, in which the term 'pro-choice' prominantly featured, was formulated and added. I fail to see what more you want the Union to do, after all, if the rules weren't followed, your paper would be among the first to make a fuss.

    07 Mar 2006, 21:20

  39. Matt Chapman said:

    I have to congratulate the Union, actually—a beautiful abuse of the democratic system that will surely encourage more and more students to get involved in Union democracy.

    Regardless of what you think of the motion I half wrote (I've written defenses of that a sufficient number of times), it wasn't written by the Union. Yes it was written by two Union members who are also members of the Union Executive, one of whom is the Union President, no that doesn't mean it was written by the Union. In a legal sense, the Union doesn't have a legal personallity and so it can't do anything as a body without a decision allowing it to do so being made at Union Executive and in a political sense the Union's decisions are taken at referenda, General Meetings and Union Council. None of these bodies took a decision to submit a motion or any decision which could lead to a need to support doing so and so the Union didn't submit a motion, two of it's members did.

    In terms of forming campaigning groups, a Union Officer (at my prompting) did actually contact people who've previously expressed a view against the Union taking a pro-choice position in order to ensure they knew they could campaign; it turned out they didn't want to. I'd also imagine that anyone with a sufficient interest in the issues around pregnancy to want to campaign would have bothered to read the detail of a motion which mentioned pregnancy in its title.

    07 Mar 2006, 23:28

  40. Does anyone else find it a rather damning statement on the state of union democracy that 'Free Speech for Media Societies' passed without even having an arguement for it available, and so I'd assume no campaign team backing it?
    I certaintly agree with what it says and voted for it, but it shows just how little effect campaigning has on students when it comes to referenda.

    08 Mar 2006, 18:48

  41. Michael Jones

    Why does the puppies motion have "mikejones" in the URL? I had nothing to do with it!

    10 Mar 2006, 01:06

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