Student democracy needs to actually engage with the 99%

Despite the common misconception of students as apathetic and time-wasting so and so’s, even the most rigorously zealous bigot would be struggling of late to ignore growing evidence to the contrary. Here at Warwick many have taken part in one form of protest or another, be it through the national protests held each November for the last two years, involvement with ‘Warwick Against the Cuts’ or else as part of ‘Occupy Warwick’. Indeed, only last month campus played host to the first ‘Warwick Higher Education Summit’, which sought to create a forum through which the upcoming changes might be discussed.

This is a specific example regarding a highly contentious issue. But to paraphrase Mr. Holmes: it is merely a method, an example to be applied. The point being that the stereotype of lazy academic scroungers isn’t exactly accurate.

And yet it is a truism which doesn’t seem to hold true within our own Union. You may have heard that on Monday 30th January, the second General Meeting of the year failed to reach the necessary quorum of 1 per cent of all SU members. The meeting was adjourned until the following Monday where quorum was officially set at however many decided to attend. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of democracy, you might say. So where exactly did it all go wrong?

Well, I think Democracy Officer Chris Luck summed it up pretty well when he pointed out that “a lot of students these days do society events, live off campus, have very busy lives doing their degree, etc. And perhaps turning up to physical meetings is no longer the future of student representation.”

Given the turnout for recent referenda and officer elections – 7.7 per cent and 21.3 per cent respectively in 2011 – voting online seems the most democratically fair option to pursue. It is of course by no means perfect, because you lose room for debate; although I’m equally sure we could negotiate that.

Isn’t it ultimately better if more people are able to have their metaphorical voice heard? It isn’t all that simple though. Even if the motions from the last GM had been presented as an online vote, I guarantee there still wouldn’t have been a sizeable enough increase in responses. There are two key reasons as to why, both largely linked to disinterest.

Firstly, there’s the issue of relevance. Now the SU mission statement centres upon ‘creating a better experience for students at Warwick’. Yet for the vast majority it would seem the motions presented are not relevant enough. This isn’t to say these aren’t important decisions, but simply that the message is being lost.

Take the proposal to amend the Boycott Eden Springs policy. However well intentioned the proposal may be, it is only going to truly matter to a relatively small number of people. Again, this isn’t to deny its importance, and if people wish to discuss it that is great, but it seems most aren’t particularly bothered either way.

In a similar vein, students need to feel voting is essential; yet many motions do not appear contestable enough to require active support. It’s the ‘someone else will surely vote for that’ attitude. You only have to look at this latest GM to realise: supporting workers’ rights; responsible postering; ‘Pound in Your Pocket: An Affordable Warwick Experience’. These are just common sense.

So what’s to be done? Well, it appears to be a question of whether less is more, as more alone becomes increasingly impracticable. Motions are failing to generate a response from 99 per cent of the student body. Ostensibly, either Council needs to be expanded and strengthened as a decision-making organization, or else the 99 per cent need to somehow be engaged with directly. Sounds easy, except both options are rife with potential complications and challenges.

Perhaps a combined third way: a little more salience for the common Bubblite, and an accessible platform t’boot. Vote now, please.

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