A motion tabled at Thursday's County College JCR AGM to disaffiliate the JCR from Lancaster University Students' Union (LUSU) failed. The motion came in the wake of 'RONgate', where votes for Re-Open Nominations (RON) were controversially disqualified in the recent by-election for LUSU President.
Just 17 County students voted in favour of the motion, 61 voted against, and 3 abstained. Tabled by the JCR Exec, who are students from County College elected annually to fill specific duties, the failure of the motion will be a disappointment for supporters of the RON campaign who saw its disqualification in the recent by-election as unjustified.
In the wake of the controversial by-election, six college JCRs publicly called for LUSU to explain why RON had been disqualified, and to publish the original pre-disqualification results. These calls were repeated by the President-elect, Oliver Robinson, and the Part Time Officers-elect, one of whom, Erin McNally, later resigned in protest. LUSU's steadfast refusal to publish the pre-disqualification results has led many students to believe that RON did actually win the election.
In interviews given to Spineless and The Tab Lancaster last week, the Returning Officer Peter Robertson said that the primary reason for the disqualification of RON was because the campaign page had made a post with the Ghanaian dancing pallbearers meme, which was considered at best an 'unthinking microaggression' and at worst 'overtly racist'. LUSU's BME Officer-elect, Max Kafula, has since responded to this in a statement where he said the meme 'had nothing to do with racism' and called on LUSU to apologise to the RON campaign.
The motion to disaffiliate was pushed by Callum Slater, County JCR's Democracy and Finance Officer and a former NUS Delegate from LUSU. He recognised in the motion that the 'disaffiliation of the JCR Exec from the Union has never been a desirable course of action and could have a detrimental effect on the experiences of our members.' The motion stated that 73% of the JCR's annual budget is funded by LUSU. Had students voted to disaffiliate, the JCR Exec would have had to make substantial cuts.
There was no significant public resistance to the proposed disaffiliation. When LUSU President-elect Oliver Robinson was asked about County's proposal by The Tab Lancaster, he said the following:
My initial response to County is that they are perfectly justified in doing this. If the Union is not representing the interest of County students then the JCR have their own mandate, their own section of the student body to consider. They are morally justified, and I wish them all the best.
Despite wishing them well, he will, no doubt, be relieved that his first week in office will not coincide with the disaffiliation of a college JCR from LUSU, something that has probably never occurred in the history of the Students' Union.
As a large and active JCR, County's near-disaffiliation will have not gone unnoticed by LUSU. County JCR represents 1,783 students, just over 10% of Lancaster University's entire student population. Its members often play an especially active role in Lancaster student politics, and can rely on a large and loyal County student block vote to get elected to LUSU sabbatical positions. George Nuttall served as the JCR's Democracy and Finance Officer before being elected LUSU President last year, and his predecessor, two-time LUSU sabb Rhiannon Jones, was a former County JCR President. Another former County JCR President, Amy Merchant, will take up office as LUSU's Vice-President (Welfare) next week.
Earlier this year, two JCRs disaffiliated from Durham Students' Union, and others hinted they may follow, in protest over the Returning Officer's decision to disqualify RON from their sabbatical and trustee elections. In Durham, RON would have won the election in the first round, with almost 60% of the vote.
No outgoing LUSU sabbatical officer, or sabb-elect (besides the President-elect) has made any public comment about the 'RONgate' crisis. LUSU has yet to respond to a request for comment.