Written by the Yes2NUS team

This article has been written in response to a recent letter written by a group of Wessex Scene editors who have understandably, given their background, been concerned about the NUS’ No Platform policy – but, in our view, have misunderstood the situation, as well as called for action that could be damaging for the referendum as a whole.

Firstly, the writers have misunderstood the fact that national policy for NUS will have no bearing on SUSU policy, and puts us under no pressure to conform. Secondly, in our opinion, it approaches the way to resolve and tackle the policy of No Platform in the wrong way, as by being non-affiliates, we have no say whatsoever on NUS policy. Finally, we are extremely concerned that the letter specifically requests that “all students of our university that were planning to vote in favour of affiliation should abstain from voting“, not just because it targets just the ‘Yes’ voters, but also because it is actively asking people not to participate in democracy.

On the first point, the letter refers to an open-letter written by Aaron Kiely (NUS Black Students Officer) – which don’t get us wrong, we feel was completely wrong in terms of message – but it is a single rogue officer, not the organisation, and he has since been called out for speaking out of turn by the NUS President. The point being that whilst they may personally believe in the No Platform policy, and have to follow it as national officers, they hold no sway over a Union following suit.

The letter goes on to say that the No Platform policy has been “arbitrarily reinterpreted and abused since its inception and has been used to justify shutting down debates and censor student media in universities across the country”, which is also incorrect. The No Platform issue is contentious, with Wikipedia citing a few instances where the policy has seemingly led to controversy – however, bar the single Durham incident, none have been a direct result of NUS action, but rather the Students’ Union’s themselves.

Keele, Oxford, and Leeds all have agreed the No Platform policy – in that a student from their University has proposed the motion and it has been voted for. This means that any event ran at these Universities would need to abide by the policy, resulting in the issues you can read about, and in some cases, they will have asked the NUS for advice on enacting their own policy – which is part of NUS supporting Unions. The fact that the Leeds article still remains up is both a sign of NUS not being able to censor Student Union media, as well as showing Leeds University Union for failing to uphold its own policy. SUSU does not currently have a No Platform policy, meaning our media are free to interview whoever they like, and it will remain that way, regardless of if we affiliate to the NUS or not, until a Southampton student suggests it AND our Union Council approves it.

On the other instances, such as Bath, the University itself shut down the event, due to the threat of disruption on campus – which they have a legitimate right to do, as campus is their property. Durham is the only instance where an NUS Officer did more than write an online blog about a Union’s activity, for which the then NUS President, Wes Streeting, issued a formal apology for and censured the officer. NUS Officers are NOT allowed to interfere with Union matters unless asked for – they are there to support, not dictate – and Union’s completely own the right to tell them to go away if they want to. To this end, it is commendable but the writers of the letter are so passionate about the topic – but it has little bearing on SUSU, as a result, and therefore shouldn’t be used to dissuade students from voting.

As said, the letter demands that the policy be dropped before students vote in favour of affiliating – which fails to acknowledge that it was the members of NUS who voted for the policy at their National Conference, which is made up of delegates from each affiliated Union. Therefore, calling for the policy to be dropped as an unaffiliated member will have no impact, as we will have no access to the debating space where Union’s argue for and against policy. In fact, it is only by affiliating, we will be able to help shape this voice – so if the goal of the letter is to have an impact on the policy, then they should be advocating for students to vote yes, rather than effectively the opposite by asking yes-voters to not vote.

Finally – all students should be encouraged to vote. The last referendum had 3400 votes out of roughly 23,000 students, which is in effect, 19,600 abstentions. Students abstaining because of this policy will be not be seen in the way that they want to be – they will be simply amongst the mass who either didn’t know, couldn’t decide, or didn’t necessarily care about the referendum. For that reason, students should always vote if they feel passionate – even if it means voting no.

The important thing to remember in all this is that, firstly, if we affiliate, we do not need to adopt any NUS policy if we choose not to. We do not even need to discuss it. The only way policy at SUSU is formed is by a member discussing it at Union Council or at our Annual General Meeting, and it will always remain that way. What’s more – if students want to see change in the NUS, the only way to make that happen is through joining and telling NUS what we want it to do. This policy also needs to be put into context amongst the whole raft of other things NUS provides Students’ Unions: a national voice, expert training, support for campaigns, research, discounts, a nationally recognised employability award, and amongst a whole lot more, the chance to integrate with students across the country in a much more effective way.

We appreciate the efforts gone to in writing the letter and trying to engage with the referendum, but hope that this response clarifies a few of the misgivings that the letter outlined.

This article is opinion only and in no way reflects the views of the entire Wessex Scene editorial team or SUSU as an organisation.

What do you think? Comment below or send an email to editor@soton.ac.uk.

NotoNUS have also produced a response to the Open Letter which will be published shortly.

5 Comments »

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  • Andy
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    DON’T CARE.

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  • Name
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    Wouldn’t it make sense to have an abstain option on the voting system? That way, wouldn’t students who don’t wish to vote either way but want to show their involvement in democracy be able to do so? Much like spoiling your ballot paper at a national election.

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  • Samuel Gilonis
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    Surprisingly, the authors and signatories of our letter aren’t quite as slow on the uptake as the Yes team have imagined us to be. We didn’t ‘misunderstand’ the policy – there have been debates shut down in Durham and Oxford, and the NUS are currently demanding the retraction of the article in Leeds and the NUS have been highly active in every instance. You say that (with the exception of Durham) that this was just Student Unions enforcing their policies, so why were the NUS involved? The letter was also speaking to abuses of the policy (as your team have picked up on), the inability of the NUS to stay within their mandate and the complete vagueness of the policy which allows this are just as concerning!

    You have said that Aaron Kiely was a ‘rogue officer’ (the same was said of the officers in the Durham, there are an awful lot of rogues…) his letter was published on the NUS website alongside no differing opinion and the letter was signed by multiple NUS officers and NECs. Hardly a renegade.

    You also mentioned Wes Streeting’s apology over the incident in Durham. I would have thought that it was obvious that an apology followed by further offences of the exact same kind rendered it meaningless.

    There is the insinuation that the letter is anti-democratic (which has been explicitly stated by your team elsewhere) as it calls on people to abstain. There is a long and noble history of spoilt ballot papers, which is in itself a democratic act. The decision was made to call for people who would otherwise vote yes to abstain rather than vote No because we rather naively thought that people from the Yes camp would be interested in the letter given that this issue was important enough in Durham as to lead to their disaffiliation from the NUS and we didn’t want to alienate anybody from the objectives of the letter.

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    Oli
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    There seems to be more Rogue officers in the NUS than all 8 seasons of 24 put together…and there was surely one every episode!

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    Sam Ling
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    Just a few small facts, but not too much more as its all really covered in this response.

    Only Durham and Leeds were directly linked to the NUS.

    Durham was the action of two officers, who were censured. Durham did disafiliate, and then soon after reaffiliated again. If you talk to the current Durham president you’ll find that they are satisfied with the NUS, and happy to be in.

    Leeds is one officer, who is not speaking for the whole organisation, and has had only 4-5 out of 49 members of NEC (the national version of what Union council is to SUSU.

    The representative of the organisation, the President of the NUS, and spoken out against this, and contrary to the comment has provided the definitive position, which is that the NUS is not in a position, and never will be, to dictate how a Union should act.

    I believe 2 such cases, which were dealt with, over the 20-30 year history of no platform actually shows that its not ambiguous, and occationally, as in all organisations, people get overly passionate and make mistakes, fortunately the reaction has been swift to stop them, and the position clarified.

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