A Law Fellow is to intervene to clarify the result of Oriel’s botched referendum to disaffiliate from OUSU.
The majority of the JCR voted to leave the student union in the referendum held last term. Since then the result has not been finalised due to procedural and constitutional issues, leading to the enlisting of a Law fellow’s expertise.
The original motion, which was presented to the college on Sunday 25th November, had been signed by 27 members, as well as a JCR-wide vote having been held to decide on the legitimacy of the referendum itself.
This was despite the fact that no initial vote was required to hold a referendum, given that sufficient signatures under Oriel’s constitutional law (i.e., more than 25) had been amassed.
Further to this, an early draft of the proposition’s arguments, which had been emailed to all JCR members, was forwarded to Tom Rutland, current OUSU President, who spoke out publicly against the proposed split. When hustings were held, Rutland had thus been provided with information which enabled him to bolster his rebuttal during the debate.
Procedural issues continued to cloud students’ understanding of the proposal, given that in return the motion’s upholders were permitted a 12-hour head start in circulating their information prior to the opening of the referendum.
The Returning Officer resigned as a result of these confusions and was replaced by the Vice President of the JCR at the time.
When voting on the referendum was eventually opened on Sunday 5th December, outcry was immediately heard over the issue of abstentions, which are permitted by the election software Mi-Vote, in spite of Oriel’s ruling that referenda must be carried over by a two-thirds majority. As such, abstentions would effectively count as votes against disaffiliation from OUSU.
The result was in fact in favour of the motion to disaffiliate with 60.8% of voters for, 29.6% against, and 9.6% abstaining. This fell short of the 66% needed to actually disaffiliate.
In the wake of this decision, an email was circulated to Oriel members alerting them to “an issue with the referendum results”, with a promise to inform students of the eventual outcome. This has still not been affirmatively published.
Continuing dissent has led to new Vice President Adam Goldthorpe enlisting the help of an SCR member and Fellow in Law. Goldthorpe’s motion, which was accepted by the JCR last Sunday, suggests the Fellow “look into the procedural issues surrounding the referendum with a view to providing formal recommendations, which the JCR will then accept as binding”.
A panel will also be assembled in order to look into Oriel’s general constitutional clarity, with a view to reform.
Oriel JCR President Ianthe Greenwood commented: “There were procedural issues stemming from a lack of concrete guidance in the JCR constitution, from which we are keen to move on in a constructive manner. In order to do so the JCR has asked an independent adjudicator to review the referendum and provide suggestions, which the JCR has agreed to accept as binding.”
Joey Dunlop, a third year PPEist, described the results as “really embarrassing” for the pro-OUSU faction, although made note of the “consistent blunders, blatant bias, and poorly worded rules” of the run-up to vote.
“We’ve sent our message of discontent”, he added.
Eleanor Sharman – a second year Philosopher and Theologian – who proposed the original motion said: “the committee did everything they could in a difficult situation, but of course questions have been raised about the ability of the constitution to cope with referenda amongst other issues.”
“As a result I’m very glad that it’s now subject to review.”