So my last post was about the Bibles in Pollock Halls motion going through the EUSA AGM tomorrow night (again, if you’re at Edinburgh Uni – GO AND VOTE!), but in this one I’m going to take a briefer look at the other motions of interest that are going before the meeting.
First up, and this’ll be the one I concentrate on, is the No Platform Policy motion. Basically the proposers of this motion want it so that anyone belonging to an organisation deemed racist, homophobic, sexist etc should be banned from giving talks or holding debates on campus. I’ll just pull out a select quote:
4. That there is a difference between supporting freedom of speech and promoting or inviting speakers who are very likely to incite hatred on the specified grounds;
5. That therefore, freedom of speech can be respected and maintained whilst actively not giving a high-profile platform to an individual or group who is very likely to incite hatred and has been known to have incited hatred on the specified grounds;”
This is kind of true if it means what I think it does, but irrelevant. It’s true that although organisations have freedom of speech, that doesn’t mean that EUSA has to provide them with a platform, and freedom of speech is perfectly respected if EUSA doesn’t offer that platform. However, that is quite different from banning a group on campus from providing a platform. Yes, the societies we’re talking about do form part of EUSA, but they have their own regulatory systems, and they’re not bound to represent the majority of students on campus, like the elected bodies of EUSA are. In my opinion banning a student society from hosting a controversial speaker is an infringement on freedom of speech, it would be banning someone from giving a platform who actually wants to, quite different from what is stated in this quote I’ve taken out.
I also think this is something of a bad idea. Banning a speaker merely drives the group underground and stifles debate, when the best thing we could hope for is to have the debate and have them well and truly trounced by people with better arguments. It’s very much an idea of Mill’s, but we should encourage opposing ideas to go against each other, it’s the best way to arrive at the truth. Stifling debate in this way could actually make the problem worse.
So, does this make me a hypocrite for opposing allowing Bibles, but also opposing banning fascists? Absolutely not. You’ll remember my argument about the Bibles centred around the religious texts being imposed on people who didn’t want them. I had nothing against the CU or anyone else distributing Bibles on campus to people who wanted them. On campus, ideas should be able to flow freely, that’s what university’s about, but putting them into people’s homes is a different matter. It’s not inconsistent to say that people who want to go to these talks can go, and it’s not being imposed on anyone who’s not interested, and in the same way anyone who wants to protest it can go.
The next motion is Boycotting Israel. I’m afraid the motion is extremely long. I appreciate that there’s a lot to get in, but they’re going have to read this out to be able to vote on it and people are going to get bored and vote against it just for that reason. The motion basically says that Israel is acting illegally through the occupation of Palestine (that much is indeniable), and that EUSA should boycott, disinvest and sanction Israel and its produce, as well as any Israeli institutions. I can’t say I disagree. What’s happening in Israel is nothing less than modern-day apartheid, they’re explicitly treating the Palestinian people differently (most recently there was a report on how Palestinians don’t have enough water for their basic needs, whereas Israelis in the settlements are still able to water their lawns – most of which comes from reservoirs on Palestinian land), getting money from the natural resources of occupied territories including the Golan Heights, and bombing civilian infrastructure. We know that international pressure from NGO’s can make a difference, as we saw in South Africa, so we should be doing everything we can to turn Israel into a pariah state so that it stops what it’s doing. Unfortunately I don’t see this motion going through, there was quite a big backlash against the occupation in George Square.
The Smoking Kills motion is an effort to ban the sale of cigarettes at EUSA outlets. I think students aren’t children and they can decide whether they want to smoke or not. Meanwhile EUSA could use the revenue. They do have a couple of good points about how tobacco companies act in the third world, but tobacco products aren’t like Nestle products, there aren’t any alternatives like there are other chocolate brands. If the proposers of this motion were to ban specific tobacco companies that are known to act badly in the third world, rather than just a blanket ban on cigarettes altogether, I think they’d have a better argument. I also don’t see this going through, there are too many smokers in the student population.
Finally, and most importantly, is the Enabling motion. This one carries a weird amendment with it, some of which doesn’t seem to have an awful lot to do with the motion itself. It basically means that future issues can be decided either at a general meeting as usual, or in a referendum (most likely to be held online). This will prevent problems with the meetings not being quorate, and will enable more students to take part in the democratic process, which can only be a good thing. I only have one problem. It is not clear what will happen if we have the general meeting voting for a motion, and the referendum voting against it. But I’d still vote for it.