David Crow is media columnist for The Business and former editor of the Glasgow University Guardian.
In March 2002 Robert Mugabe won the Zimbabwean presidential election with 56% of the vote. State owned media and the coercion of voters worked to ensure he maintained his tyrannous hold over a country which is increasingly plagued by an unstable economy and significant abuses of human rights. However, the results of Glasgow University's NUS referendum would have made Mr Mugabe blush; elections that produce a 93.9% majority are neither free nor fair.
I'm not suggesting Glasgow University should have joined the NUS. During my time as editor of the campus's only independent newspaper I found the officials I encountered to be nasty, self-serving and pernicious. I voted 'Yes' not because I believed the NUS could make a valuable contribution to student life at Glasgow but to register my disgust at the utter lack of democracy displayed during the referendum.
Those who ran the 'No' camp did an impressive job with a campaign that was ruthless and strong. That the 'Yes' lobby was controlled by a group of unpopular militant socialists who tried to garner the support of their "comrades, brothers and sisters" was merely the icing on the cake. However, the tactics of those hoping to keep Glasgow out of the NUS were both unfair and dirty.
On the day of the elections both unions had mobilised all their staff to campaign against affiliation and they set up online polling booths in their foyers to encourage students to vote. In the five years I have spent at Glasgow this has never happened; thousands of computers litter the campus and it is unlikely that the 4,327 students who voted would have been unable to vote elsewhere. I spent time in both foyers on polling day and was shocked by what I saw.
Students ? most of whom were unaware a referendum was even taking place ? were accosted as they entered the buildings to buy their lunch and told how to vote. The turnout, massive by Glasgow standards, shows that this election was won with the ballots of those who normally would not have voted in a campus election. Of course, they needed these votes because the referendum result would have been null and void had less than 3,000 students voted. Compare this figure to that for our SRC presidents and vice-presidents who receive a combined salary of nearly £60,000 but were elected on a turnout of just a thousand.
Supposedly independent, the [Glasgow] Guardian newspaper ran a front-page splash featuring the headline "£50K to join NUS" and the unions also ran anti-NUS stories in their own excellent magazines. No media outlet supported or provided adequate space for those who believe in the benefits of the NUS. A few column inches in the Guardian for the head of the 'Yes' campaign was all there was.
I use the word 'supposedly' because although officially independent the Guardian newspaper is funded, housed and managed by the SRC whose own anti-affiliation stance was widely known. I am not suggesting for one minute that Guardian was told what to print; I know the new editor well and am aware he has fervent and passionate views that Glasgow should not affiliate.
However, presented with the obvious lack of coverage for those campaigning to join the only independent voice on campus needed to appear whiter than white. The countless column inches given to the reasons Glasgow should not join ? an opinion ardently held by paper's proprietor ? pose serious questions about the publication's autonomy. Last week Murdoch's BskyB bought an 18% stake in ITV yet his most prestigious newspaper The Sunday Times ran a prominent article questioning the fairness and competitiveness of the deal. Had they taken a different line their title and brand would have been discredited, the same is sadly true of Guardian.
Mr Mugabe still wins elections in Zimbabwe because the state-run press parrots his opinions whilst his officials coerce the country's voters. Freedom of the press and a fair vote are two of the basic tenets in a transparent democracy. It is thoroughly depressing that neither were evident on Glasgow University's campus last week; what should have been a victory for Glasgow's students is now tainted.
Look out for Live!'s summary of Imperial's referendum later this week.