Edinburgh students reject ban and boycott on BNP, cigarettes and Israel.

Posted on 17/11/2009 by


The annual general meeting of the Edinburgh Student Union Association was nothing if not ambitious. On the cards was a boycott against Israel, a ban on the sale of cigarettes on the campus, and a ban on the BNP. On a more positive note, there was a motion to make the University more energy efficient (but I guess you could see that as a ban on carbon…)

As if that wasn’t radical enough, it seems that the whole event was a live twittathon, as dozens of students used the social networking site twitter to let the world (and me) see what was going on. There was even a giant twitter screen in the hall!

I followed the proceedings using these live twitter feeds, to see how effectively I could report on the event without being there in person. Here’s my attempt to see whether this impressionistic stream of comments can be converted into a coherent picture of the whole – kind of like a twitter jigsaw.

The night began with an impressive number of students – the student newspaper reported that students were spilling out of Appleton Tower, probably tempted in by the big debates on the BNP and the boycott Israel motion.

First, though, the warm up acts – such as the debate over whether bibles could be distributed in Pollock Halls (motion failed) and an attempt to introduce some kind of online referenda (motion failed.)

Next, the no-platform debate over whether the BNP should be banned from the University – not so straightforward as you might think. Not that anyone at the meeting actually appeared to be in favour of the BNP, but the the strongest argument against the motion was that it would restrict freedom of speech.

Samhansford was apparently itching to fight the BNP on University turf, saying that “If we can’t fight them here, where can we fight them?”  Edjournal reported that the motion ultimately failed.

Next came perhaps the most controversial motion of the night, regarding Israel. The proposal was a pretty lengthy document (viewable here) but in essence it called for a cultural, sporting and consumer boycott of Israel, disinvestment in Israeli companies, and sanctions, in response to the treatment of Palestinians.

The motion was apparently greeted with booing. Those speaking against it said that it would prevent some Israeli students from coming to Edinburgh University – and it was promptly voted out. Perhaps a more moderate motion against Israel might have garnered sympathy .

As the motion was kicked out of the building, it apparently took a sizeable chunk of the students with it.

Perhaps they were leaving to have a fag? Because the next motion was whether to ban the sale of cigarettes from EUSA shops and establishments.

Perhaps sensing that the full ban would fail, an amendment was tabled saying that the offending delicacies could be sold, but had to be hidden from sight. Would it be enough to secure the votes?

YES! The motion passed with an overwhelming majority!

But wait…so many students had left, that the necessary numbers were no longer present. 300 votes were needed. So close…and yet so far. I wonder how many happy students were, at that precise moment, enjoying a pint and a cigarrette, having left the AGM early, and watching the result on their I-phones.

Sometimes being absent is a powerful political weapon….

And so my virtual tour of the EUSA AGM concludes. There were other motions, other tales to be told. But I shall wait for wiser, more physically present witnesses to report on this epic night of twittering, before I write more.

Goodnight, and Good Luck.