Imperial College Union is now all but committed to spending £35,000 on NUS affiliation this year, after a fortnight of campaigning filled with complaints, claims and counter-claims boiled down to the opinions of just 130 people. The leaders of both campaign teams have signed forms to say that the referendum was fair, but some students in the bar on Friday expressed concerns. The returning officer did the best job he could, but at times it seemed like a whole army was required to keep it under control, not just one sabb.
David Crow's article criticising the Glasgow referendum has attracted a degree of consternation, but how did it compare to our own?
At the low end of the scale, complaints during Imperial's referendum were lodged about the positioning of posters - they are required to be 6m apart when in line of sight of each other and only one is allowed per post on the walkway. At one point both sides were complaining about their posters disappearing, which it later transpired was due to College cleaners taking them down.
The 'Yes' campaign kicked off the first major complaint of the referendum, with an upheld complaint about bias in one of Stephen Brown's Felix editorials. Brown's article was deemed to be openly biased as it listed him as "Felix Comment Editor". The student media are not able to take sides in any form of election so a retraction was printed in the next issue.
The 'No' campaign was accused of a conspiracy upon the publication of Guildsheet, City & Guilds College Union's monthly magazine. The editor, Tristan Sherliker, was approached by the 'No campaign and asked to run advert. The 'Yes' campaign made no such request however were not contacted to ask if they would like an advert as well, leading Guildsheet to be impounded until voting closed. Sherliker is rarely seen in the Guilds office and Guildsheet is edited in Beit Hall this year, however CGCU President and 'No' campaign leader James Fok was deemed to have had an advantage by knowing that Guildsheet was publishing a month after the previous issue.
The 'Yes' campaign also came under fire, as they had access to the list of email addresses who signed the petition calling for a referendum. They were able to send out emails to those 617 people inviting them to vote 'Yes'. The 'No' campaign did not have access to the email list and expressed their concern about the situation. Those who signed the petition were deemed to be part of the 'Yes' campaign, so it was acceptable for them to be emailed - members of the 'No' campaign who had signed the petition were removed from the list before the email was sent out.
Around a month before the referendum the Union became aware of a potential hole in the finances. Although NUS affiliation fees will be coming from the money freed by disaffiliating from ULU, the full amount does not become available for several years. The Union will need need to find up to £50k over the next few years to cover the shortfall, however plans are well under way to ensure this does not affect club budgets. This information was considered 'commercially sensitive', so the Sabbatical Officers were required to keep it confidential. It was only through repeated requests and turning up at Mr Collins' door that Live! and Felix were able to obtain the information a few days before voting opened.
Highly Charged Debate
The campaigning fortnight started as it meant to go on, with a disorderly hustings in an RCC meeting seeing people shouting over each other. Many on the 'Yes' and 'No' sides were seen getting over-excited during the highly-charged campaign, however Jon Matthews was able to bring this under control once his voice recovered. James Fok was one of the last to shout during the week, as he rather comically got into an argument with a penguin on Upper Dalby Court. Mr Fok had just left a meeting in the blue cube, where he was representing his students, when the penguin shouted that the 'No' campaign was 'lazy' as he wasn't out campaigning but in the cube instead.
The referendum should have been an entertaining experience, with both sides able to present their views in a constructive manner. Unfortunately it degenerated into personal attacks at times, with a general level of chaos throughout. The returning officer was receiving complaints left, right and centre for the entire fortnight and external people were seen to be intimidating both 'No' campaigners and students who said they had voted 'No'. Something must clearly be done to prevent a repeat of this situation.
In any case we'll be joining, but with a hair's breadth between 'Yes' and 'No'. This is perhaps the best situation we could ask for - we have an opportunity to get first-hand experience of the NUS. Should it be positive, we can stay in. If it doesn't work for us, we can be back out very quickly indeed. As I said to NUS President Gemma Tumelty on Friday: we'll take part, we'll engage with the NUS. But we'll also be watching carefully. Very carefully indeed.