On Thursday, at the first Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) student council meeting of the year, a motion to ban arms companies from EUSA buildings was passed by 45 votes to 20. The ethics of arms companies are absolutely not up for debate here, and it could be assumed that most people at Edinburgh University would indeed choose to vote to ban them, but this meeting smacks of the biggest issue with EUSA that has existed for years; a complete lack of representation.
This meeting committed the university to a political position based on the vote of less than 1% of the student population.
The opposition to the motion was raised by students in STEM subjects, who claimed that the ban would prevent companies with links to the arms trade from attending careers fairs, therefore limiting their chances of gainful employment post -university. Very probably, many of their colleagues were completely unaware that this meeting was even happening, and of the threat posed to their interests.
President Jonny Ross-Tatam has made much of his drive towards greater representation, with research into the representation of ‘widening access’ students in EUSA societies and elected positions, and this council meeting has simply served to highlight the desperate need for this. For too long, EUSA has been dominated by a small minority of student hacks, an enclave distant from the student body at large who generally regard the union with a disinterest bordering on ridicule.
Defending the motion, the proposer stated that Edinburgh is a ‘politicised’ university, and so must take a stand on political issues such as this, but how can this claim be justified when the reality is shockingly low turnout to the democratic processes of the union?
This year’s election season did see record numbers voting, but this enthusiasm needs to be carried through the academic year – little such hope exists for the upcoming by-elections, which are far less glamorous and are likely to still see a lot of uncontested positions and low voter turnout.
This year’s sabbatical team is actually one of the best we have seen in recent years, and they deserve to be commended for what has already been achieved. Two weeks into the new term and we are already seeing them making good on their election promises and responding to the genuine desires of the student body.
The opening of the refugee collection point is a mature and welcome response to this international tragedy, and has been very successful, with the first shipment of donations already delivered to Calais; and the new availability of free sanitary products for students is a huge success. EUSA deserves recognition for its successes, but too often this is obscured by confusing internal politics and scandals.
In the past few years, EUSA has become more infamously associated with controversies, such as the banning of ‘strawpedoing’ at the Big Cheese, and negativity from the national press for the banning of ‘Blurred Lines’ from EUSA venues than for its successes.
It is pleasing to see that widening participation is a priority for EUSA this year, and already it seems that popular opinion may be turning in its favour, after welcome reception to its work thus far. The damaged reputation of EUSA may indeed be on the mend, but it exists, first and foremost, to represent the students of The University of Edinburgh – and it will never be a success until it represents more than a 1% minority.