It is a rare and slighty unsettling experience for us to find ourselves defending The Student, the University of Edinburgh’s student newspaper and our old rivals. Yet that is where we stand today, with the news that Edinburgh University Students’ Association have taken the dramatic, disgraceful and thoroughly illiberal step of dragging their own newspaper through the courts in a bid to suppress information about union governance and sordid internal politicking.
As we report today, EUSA sought and obtained an interdict — the Scots law equivalent of an injunction — prohibiting The Student from publishing a story believed to relate to EUSA vice-president Max Crema, whose ten-week suspension last summer and rocky relationship with EUSA staff have been widely reported. As a result, several thousand copies of the newspaper — printed at no small expense — are now stacked in their newsroom, and will probably never see the light of day.
But if EUSA’s conduct in successfully censoring their campus press is reprehensible, the interdict itself is an affront to any notion of free speech: as well as the expected sanctions against specific information allegedly obtained from confidential documents leaked to The Student, Court of Session judge Lord Jones has barred the paper from publishing “any material purporting to suggest that [EUSA] is an organisation which is poorly governed and whose management are inexperienced and unaccountable”. This bizarre ruling is so broad as to potentially stifle any criticism, however legitimate, of EUSA in the pages of the paper most closely connected to it. It is a masterclass in judicial overreach; a legal cudgel of farcical proportions.
When we revealed Mr Crema’s suspension last September, we were strongly critical of EUSA’s deliberate ambiguity about why he was (temporarily) ousted. The union has shown an almost pathological aversion to transparent governance: they stonewalled both The Journal and The Student at the time, and they continue to do so. Yes, there are legal implications and issues of confidentiality here which should be respected. But as a democratic organisation, EUSA has a duty to its members to be as open and honest about its affairs as possible — particularly when they involve the union's most senior elected representatives.
Institutionally, EUSA have at every stage of this sorry affair failed to answer fundamental and important questions about how the organisation is governed. If the trustees and staff are allowed to operate almost entirely clandestinely and yet exert such force on union affairs, how can the student body be expected to view EUSA democracy as anything but theatre?