Kerry explained that they had received two proposals for when to hold a referendum on the rebrand.
Ben Franklin proposed Option A – to hold the referendum at the start of the next academic year. Ben explained that this would allow more meaningful engagement from students, more informed and objective debate and would be more likely to reach quoracy. This option wouldn’t be about putting the referendum off, but rather ensuring that it’s done properly.
Frazer Delves proposed Option B – to hold the referendum on Friday 3rd June 2016. Frazer said that the petition shows that students clearly want a referendum, that new students wouldn’t be able to make a fair comparison as they would never have seen the SUSU branding and that it would be damaging to the Union’s reputation to delay the referendum any further. Students have shown that they care despite having exams and the library referendum shows that referendums can be organised quickly.
Kerry reminded everyone that due to the new Democracy Reform Proposal, quoracy is now 10% for referendums, and that everyone should agree that no matter when the referendum is held, it would be good for it to meet quoracy.
Mike Allwright said he was of the opinion that if the referendum is held now when everyone is engaged and quoracy isn’t met, then it tells us that most students don’t care that much.
Trini Philip said that people have heated reactions at the moment, and that people often dislike changes initially, but that having the referendum in the new academic year would allow people to see the brand settle in. Trini also argued that new students should have a say over a brand that they will experience over the next few years.
Toby Leveson said that students still haven’t fully experienced the brand and seen its full potential, so it’s too early to make a judgement about it.
Sam Tyler said that having the referendum in June would deprive new students from having a say whereas holding it in the new academic year would deprive graduating students and it would be more democratic to hold it the new academic year.
Rupert Molyneux said that it would be more of a reputational issue to allow leaving students to dictate the outcome of the brand than it would be to wait to hold the referendum in the new academic year to let new students have a say. For a fair debate, everyone needs to have seen the potential of both the brands, so even if the academic year wasn’t ending, the referendum should still be delayed long enough for both brands to be explored properly.
Oliver Bassett said that democracy needs to be seen to be happening and people want a vote now. It would be damaging to allow the perception that leaving students’ opinions don’t matter. Furthermore new students wouldn’t have experienced the SUSU brand, so wouldn’t have anything to compare against. Kerry said that this was a valid point and noted that both options had the problem of students experiencing both brands properly.
Sam said that a lot of new students will have come to open days and experienced the SUSU brand and that there would likely be a campaign for the SUSU brand, so new students would get to see it then.
Emma Morris said that there was currently an online poll with the two options for the timing of the referendum, which states that out of 104 respondents, 88% want the referendum next week as opposed to next academic year. Ben said that the sample was one-sided, as it had been shared primarily on a Facebook page that was opposed to the rebrand.
Rebecca Lake said that whilst she understood the argument of allowing freshers to vote on something that affects them, the Union doesn’t let new students vote on important things like the Full-Time Officer team or Student Leaders, which will also affect them. Ben noted that the Full-Time Officer team changes each year, whereas the rebrand will likely last throughout the new students’ time at University. Emma said that she’s already experienced two rebrands from the Union during her time at the University.
Kokulan Mahendiran said that one-third of people who currently have an issue with the rebrand would be losing their vote. Kerry said that, as with the challenge around being able to experience both brands, that whenever the referendum is held a large number of students will be excluded from having their say.
Alex Hovden said that if the Committee decided to have the referendum in the new academic year, students wouldn’t be likely to understand or accept the reasons, and this decision, and would continue to be angry at the Union.
Bart Jennings said that either way a group of students would be excluded. If we have it in the new academic year, it looks bad to new students and they won’t be able to make an informed vote.
Jade Head said that the decision on the rebrand referendum in 2014 was made with a small number of people at Union Council and that this decision at Democracy Zone Committee would be made with an even smaller membership, made up of mainly Full-Time Officers. She said that previous referendums have often been led by Full-Time Officers, but as soon as students want a referendum, there seem to be lots of issues.
Hannah De la Salle made the point that if the referendum was in the new academic year, new students would start next year and experience a divided Union. A lot of new students will likely have had few democratic experiences, and then we will be asking them to vote on an issue that they know little about.
Sam reiterated that new students should have more of a say on the issue because it is they who will experience it for the next three years.
Anthony Kenny said that students should be the highest decision-making body and we should give them this choice as soon as possible to let them decide.
Mike said that a students’ union always has a rolling electorate because students continuously leave and new students arrive and decisions shouldn’t be put off to allow future students to vote. Furthermore, if the referendum was held in the new academic year, older students would still be angry and this would filter down to the new students whose first experience of the Union would be negative.
Toby said that if the referendum was held next week, people would vote on instinct and gut dislike to change rather than objectively voting on the two brands.
Emma made the point that current students effectively paid for the rebrand from their tuition fees, so current students should get to vote. Emma also stressed how important the alumni community are to the University (Jade added that the alumni had previously paid for refurbishments to the concourse) and denying leaving student a vote could damage this relationship.
Trini said that holding the referendum in the new academic year would engage new students in the democracy of the Union and could help get more engagement with elections.
Frazer read correspondence from Mayan, in which she urged the Committee to represent what students want, and vote in favour of holding the referendum in June.
Oliver referenced the active petition to dissolve the Union and said that the petition would gain favour from leaving students if the Committee decided to have the referendum in the next academic year.
Kokulan said that instead of presuming how and why people would vote we should just let people have their say now.
Responding to Trini’s point that the referendum would help engage new students, Jade said that experience has shown that referendums early in the year does not help increase turnout in the main Spring Elections each year.
The Committee voted in favour of Option A, to hold the referendum in the next academic year (Option A: 2 (Trini and Ben), Option B: 1 (Frazer), Abstain: 1 (Jamie)).