The ‘Yes’ campaign in the Guild of Students democracy referendum has achieved a decisive victory as students approve Guild reforms

Written by Becky Gelder
Images by Redbrick

A referendum to decide the future of democracy at the Guild of Students has resulted in a landslide win in favour of the proposed new democratic procedure.

The result of the referendum was announced at the 2020 Guild Election results night on the 29th February, and was met with huge cheers from the audience, some of whom had been part of the ‘Yes’ campaign. With the total number of votes reaching 5,644, 4,960 students voted ‘yes’ to democratic change. Of the remaining votes, ‘no’ received 246 votes and ‘abstain’ received 438 votes.

The referendum proposal centred around ‘opening up’ decision making processes in order to ‘give students a much larger role’ in choosing the direction which the Guild takes. As part of this effort to improve consultation processes and transparency, the proposal put forward a number of solutions including the creation of four different student-led committees.

These committees would serve to support Guild Officers and ‘provide different perspectives reflecting the wide diversity of Birmingham students,’ as well as being able to approve or reject decisions brought before them. Also on the list of aims is the creation of an All-Student Meeting which would allow students to have their say on various matters related to the Guild, and an ‘All Student Vote’ to be used to decide ‘the biggest issues’ facing students.

Further objectives of the proposal include increased transparency and accessibility within the Guild, stating that details of meetings and decisions will be made available to students on social media. As well as this, it intends to create some ‘flexible approaches’ and looks to make sure that student ideas are directed to the right place so that appropriate decision making can then take place. The outcome of the referendum also means that the Scrutiny Panel, which is currently being tested by the Guild, will be formally adopted as a method of ensuring accountability on the part of the officer team.

While the referendum will primarily see the introduction of new mechanisms for improving the democratic processes of the Guild, the proposal will also see the end of some of the current structures.

The Student Groups Executive (SGX) and Student Equality and Diversity Committee will be replaced by the new Activities Committee and the new Welfare and Liberation Committee respectively, while the introduction of the All-Student Meeting and Scrutiny Panel will bring about the end of Officer Question Time.

The ‘Your Ideas’ voting cycles will also be stopped in accordance with the proposal, due to the fact that the process is deemed to be ‘too slow’. Instead, decisions are to be made by students in committees.

Ryan Ginger, the current Guild Activities and Employability Officer, spoke to Redbrick, saying: ‘This referendum has been years in the making and it’s fantastic to see 95% of students who voted in the referendum voting yes for change! The democratic structures, Your Ideas and Officer Question Time, were broken and needed fixing.’

‘My time as an officer has highlighted that the structures don’t work. As a student I didn’t use the structures we had and it’s important that students engage with the systems we have. It will be fantastic to see these new structures ready for students to engage with for the start of next year.’

The future of Guild democracy looks a lot brighter

When asked where the most important changes were required within the Guild’s democratic processes, Ginger explained: ‘it’s incredibly important that the scrutiny panel is part of the structures. It is a vital way of holding officers to account and making sure they’re doing  the work they should be doing for students.’

He also noted that the All-Student Meeting will be very beneficial, allowing students to ‘use their voice’ with regards to important issues.

‘The future of Guild democracy looks a lot brighter! There’s more chances for students to get involved, officers will be held accountable and you’ve got efficient and democratic decision making!’