If like many cavers in the UK, and some abroad, you have just received an eight page ballot paper either by post or email and are wondering what to do next we thought we’d try and help with a little extra information and background, which hopefully will assist some readers to make a more informed choice!
To try to simplify things, we’ve highlighted the important bits in yellow boxes.
So what’s happening?
You might have received your ballot paper by now, or perhaps not. Either way you should receive it by the end of this week. If not, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for a duplicate to be sent.
The BCA constitution stipulates that a postal ballot of members must be taken before the constitution itself can be amended. For the changes to be successful, 70% of votes cast must vote in be favour of each change.
Four changes are proposed, we’ll look at each in turn.
More detail and the background…
The sentence is correct in law, landowners and tenants DO have the right to grant or withhold access and nothing the BCA constitution says, or doesn’t say, will change that.
The proposal will send a clear message to landowners that cavers as a body DO NOT respect their rights and views. We know from recent experience some landowners watch the BCA’s activities closely and potentially this could lead to reduced access. As an example, back in 2016 show cave owners closed their caves to cavers in a protest against the BCA Countryside Rights of Way (CRoW) campaign – see http://darknessbelow.co.uk/news-showcaves-closed-to-cavers-in-protest-against-bca-crow-campaign/ for more details.
The example of a landowner ignoring the need for cave protection is a little odd and seems irrelevant. Quarrying which may risk a cave’s protection is not an access issue – we can all probably agree caves should be protected regardless of whether we have access. Nothing in the BCA’s constitution would prevent the organisation campaigning to protect a cave from damage through quarrying.
The background to the proposal in fact relates to the CRoW campaign mentioned above. Prior to the BCA CRoW ballot around three years ago, some felt that the BCA could not run a campaign in the way they were attempting because of this sentence in the constitution. The BCA acknowledged this in the ballot paper at the time and undertook to amend Section 4.6 if the ballot was in favour of a campaign. Since then there has been much debate within the BCA, and a little elsewhere, but the BCA have eventually decided that the clause does not prevent a campaign continuing.
So why delete it, and why risk souring relations with some landowners? Reading between the lines this seems little more than an attempt to draw a line under their own internal political problems.
Without this proposal we could probably have had a four page ballot paper!
The BCA two house voting system is probably poorly understood, but essentially means where currently voting is separated into groups (clubs and other representative bodies) and individuals (all BCA members not just direct members) this will no longer apply to the election of officers. At the moment, for example, it is possible for individual members to vote in a new officer whilst the vote amongst group members could prevent the appointment, or vice versa. The two house voting system will remain in place for other votes – this ballot for example.
The BCA CRoW poll cost the BCA over £5,000 of members money. It is argued that email or online voting would be far cheaper and, in the case of this ballot, Bob Mehew on behalf of the BCA Executive estimates the cost of the email ballot at zero and the cost of the postal ballot at around £1500. Whilst it’s clear that money will be saved it’s not so clear that participation will increase, but perhaps after the ballot we will have a better idea.
Keen observers may well query how the BCA can hold an email ballot in advance of this proposal to allow the holding of email ballots? The answer is that in 2010 a separate clause was added to the constitution which interpreted the phrase “postal ballot” and decided it could mean an online ballot. The more cynical will of course point out that dropping the word “postal” in these clauses might have been a good idea at the same time, but that’s what happened!
Proposal 3 removes the word “postal” from section 9.1 and Proposal 4 removes the references to “postal ballot” in Section 9.2 and the definition of “postal ballot” in Section 1.3.
At Darkness Below, we believe that good relationships between cavers and landowners have always been at the heart of British caving and so we urge all BCA members to think hard about what sort of message will be sent to landowners if BCA are seen to in any way deny their long held right to grant or withhold access. Even if BCA’s CroW campaign were to prove successful at some point in the future, there are still large numbers of caves that are not on CroW land and for access to those sites, cavers will still be dependent on the goodwill of the landowners just as we will for many of the activities, such as digging, archaeology and scientific study that will not covered by CRoW. This aspect of the proposed changes goes much deeper than simple constitutional housekeeping.