The first day of voting in Oxford’s NUS referendum was made more dramatic by instances of rule violations on both sides.
This morning the NUS issued an email to all NUSExtra card holders detailing the risks leaving the national union would have for those with cards. However, while NUS did not know of the rule, the email list was prohibited as the OUSU Returning Officer had ruled, “all NUS mailing lists are classified as excluded mailing lists and therefore cannot be used for campaigning during this referendum”.
Around the same time, Louis McEvoy a campaigner in support of the movement to leave the NUS posted in the Christ Church JCR Facebook group a post urging students to vote to leave the NUS, “Don’t forget to vote in the NUS referendum today (unless you want to stay in. In which case, feel free to forget)”. Posting of this form also breaks OUSU rules concerning campaigning in closed groups.
The NUS commented to Cherwell that “An email was sent to NUS Extra card holders who signed up to receive further communication from NUS. We feel we have a duty to inform card holders that they will no longer be able to access this service should students vote for their union to disaffiliate from NUS”.
Indeed, the returning officer, Anna Mowbray, claimed she did not have any reason to believe the email was sent at the direction of the Yes campaign, but did note that, while some were unsure a non-University affiliated group could break election rules, this did constitute a rule violation.
“According to the regulations, the official campaigns are responsible for the conduct of anyone who campaigns on their behalf”, Mowbray said. “Consequently, although the NUS are not part of Oxford University, sending out information that promotes the Yes2NUS campaign is part of Yes2NUS Campaigning. Therefore it does come under the remit of the election regulations.”
The Yes campaign was also unaware of the email before it was sent. “This situation has arisen from miscommunication, rather than any intention to break rules. We in the Yes to NUS campaign did not know that NUS were planning on using their NUS Extra email list to remind students about our referendum. Similarly, NUS officers did not know at all about the ruling. Had we known it was something NUS were planning on doing, we would have told them about the ruling”, a Yes campaign spokesman said.
This ruling by the returning officer is also why Louis McEvoy’s post broke the rules, for though McEvoy is a private individual unaffiliated with the official campaign, the No campaign is responsible for his actions.
“Louis’ rule break was unfortunate but an innocent mistake – he isn’t officially involved with No Thanks NUS and wasn’t aware of the rules. As soon as we were informed of the post on the ChCh page we contacted him to get him to remove it and the matter was dealt with quickly and efficiently,” leader of No Thanks NUS Anne Cremin said.
Though, the No side took a less forgiving tone with the NUS’s email violation. “We are disappointed by what appears to be a flagrant violation of the rules by the NUS. The NUS has demonstrated that it has no respect for the democratic rules of our student union” Cremin said.
While McEvoy’s post is being dealt with internally, OUSU is trying to “find a suitable recompense for this email which clearly limits the fairness of the referendum by allowing one side a channel of communication that is not available to the other”, Mowbray said.
This all follows an email from New College’s access rep in support of the Yes campaign, violating the same rules as the NUS.