Involuntary Democracy: Is it a truly democratic system that coerces people to participate?

I am going to lay my cards on the table right off the mark. Everyone who saw me shouting at the chair at the end of the General Meeting or was following the Courier Live Blog a few weeks ago will know how strongly I feel about this subject, so let’s not beat about the bush. Essentially, in a less publicised and pretty much hidden series of GMs last year, the assembled delegates decided to impose a Two Person rule; that two representatives from every society are coerced (not forced, as it turns out: More on this later) into attending, whether they wish to or not.  Apart from being entirely undemocratic in terms of forcing people to vote when democracy also comes with the right NOT to vote, it’s also a little suspect in terms of actual political legitimacy.I am here today to ask and answer one simple question: Does a truly democratic system have to coerce people into participation? Now, my immediate answer to this is no. Let’s look at the Guild’s day-to-day operation. We operate a system not to dissimilar to the Liberal Representative model of governance: we elect representatives who then act supposedly in our interest in running the Guild. Supposedly, under this model, these representatives work in the best interest of the student body and this allows for a parliamentary style of debating issues before passing motions on them. However, when I look at the institution the Guild is, I see incompetent chairing of meetings by Mike Buchanan rendering all debate pretty much impotent due to a lack of information, a radical left coalition fronted by a Guild Officer that frankly needs a reality check (Quote: We’ll ban Coca Cola, Nestle & all branded goods!), and a very disenfranchised and disillusioned student body.The key difference between the model & our reality is that in Westminster, Politicians CHOOSE to be in Parliament. They choose to actively engage with politics, to campaign, to consider & to vote. The participation of the individual in true Democracy can extend from all of the above to merely voting in elections, or being disengaged from the system entirely. What we have done as a Guild is ignore the very principle of Democracy that defines it as a system of government:  the right to choose. What also troubles me is the obvious disengagement that the Guild has encouraged through so many years of mismanagement is not being dealt with by moves towards better accountability or wider publication of the GM literature, but by toothless punitive measures to ensure people attend. That’s right people: while it is ‘compulsory’ for you to attend, there are no actual sanctions if you do not!
This brings me back to my coercion point. It is not ‘forced’ democracy like the Australian System, where you have to place a vote, even if you spoil your ballot paper, which affords people the choice to still be disconnected. Instead, we force people to sit in a room and listen to back and forth arguments over issues that do not affect them. To take the example of a friend of mine, he contended why the President of the Sci-Fi society and his treasurer were required to pass judgement on a Starbucks Coffee machine in the Guild, and I can see his point. Some better subject material would also be appreciated: It’s bad enough I am forced to entertain the whims of every pocket politician at the GM, but can we at least discuss real issues? For example, why did a Starbucks Coffee Machine get higher billing than the Housing Crisis in the minutes & publications of the meetings? It makes the Guild look at best buffoonish and at worst downright out of touch.

My main point, perhaps inevitably, comes in my conclusion. People will be involved in democracy as and when they want to be. If the Guild wants to encourage a democratic structure, it could start by getting a better Chair than Mike Buchanan and starting to distribute the literature for GMs in advance of the actual meeting (even a mass email with the GM minutes as a PDF document would suffice) to allow people to consider to issues before they are forced into a hot, stuffy room with hot, stuffy University Politicians.  Repealing this rather ineffective & toothless ruling would be a benefit to democracy & to the Guild as a whole. Sort it out, chaps!