(Featured image via Luc Galoppin, licensed CC BY 2.0.)

During the LUSU Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 28th October 2019, perhaps the most important motion to pass was the motion on Democratisation. It was the only motion to contain provisions that might stop LUSU ever again carrying out a sale of a beloved community asset such as the Sugarhouse in the manner that it tried to.

The key provision of the motion was the creation of a Constitutional Convention to 'review and propose amendments to the Union's Articles of Association and byelaws.' The motion stated that 'any student' should be able to contribute, with the 'intent of radically democratising every aspect of the Union and its work, including the re-establishment of Union Council and the introduction of participatory budgeting'.

From the AGM on 28th October, until 13th December, not a peep was heard about any kind of constitutional changes from LUSU. In the intervening period, LUSU ran a campus referendum asking whether the Trustee Board should have a majority of student-elected representatives. This passed with 2,096 votes in favour, 135 votes against, and 110 abstentions - a total turnout of 14.9% of the student body. The motion passed at the AGM by over 1,000 students had already called for 'a fully elected Trustee Board.'

A December Trustee Board meeting followed the campus referendums (a second one on the sale of the Sugarhouse was run concurrently). This meeting ended the Sugarhouse sale and also made the decision to bring in 'an external consultant with expertise in students' union governance' to conduct a review of the Articles of Association. The stated purpose of the review? To 'ensure that the Trustee Board and other governance structures are robust and appropriate.' The statement revealed more in what it didn't say: there was no mention of the Constitutional Convention. There wasn't even any mention of student input.

This would appear to be a legacy of former interim CEO Antony Blackshaw, who held the post from Claire Geddes' secondment (then resignation) in mid-November until the end of term of December. Mr Blackshaw is head of Blackshaw Management Consultants Ltd, who specialise in students' union governance. He has undertaken a number of interim postings in different students' unions, either as an interim CEO or as a 'change director'. From September 2017 to March 2018, Mr Blackshaw was interim CEO of Ulster University Students' Union (UUSU). His company was also awarded a £15,000 contract to carry out a governance review of UUSU.

The UUSU governance review in 2017/18 decided that the number of student trustees should be reduced from seven to four, that an extra external trustee should be added, and that the student trustees should be appointed, not elected. This is very similar to LUSU's own 2016 anti-democratic constitutional reforms, except Mr Blackshaw did not go so far as to abolish UUSU's student-run council.

Mr Blackshaw's background does not bode well for the review that is to be conducted by whichever consultant he decided to bring in. It seems very likely that LUSU higher-ups don't think the AGM policy was worth the paper it was written on. They have clearly indicated a disdain for the views of students, for example with the Sugarhouse sale, the Bailrigg FM licence debacle, or the end of Grad Ball.

In order to achieve the Constitutional Convention voted for at the AGM, it seems students will have to take matters into their own hands to carry it out while, presumably, LUSU does everything it can to obstruct it.