Union Council this week held a fierce debate as to whether or not the university should hold a referendum on joining the National Union of Students (NUS). The motion was brought to council by SUSU President, Billy Fitzjohn, and after hours of deliberation was voted through. This means that the Students’ Union will hold a referendum to decide whether it should join the NUS at the end of November.
SUSU disaffiliated itself from the NUS in 2003 due to cost and general dissatisfaction with the way the union was run at the time. However Billy had promised to hold a referendum on the issue as part of his campaign manifesto and in his own words “unlike Nick Clegg, I aim to keep my manifesto promises”. The referendum will give every student a chance to vote for or against the union joining the NUS.
It was argued, during the council meeting, that this was not an important topic for students as it wasn’t even mentioned in last year’s Annual General Meeting. Member of the Union Council, Chris Houghton, speaking against the motion, said “There is only one benefit of the NUS which will directly impact students – the student discount. Voters vote for what directly affects them, which is why we’ll almost certainly be part of the NUS by the end of the year.”
However, Chris’s comments were strongly rejected by those arguing in favour of the referendum, Billy stating that it was ‘insulting’ to say that students would not make an informed decision. Billy focused strongly on the fact that he was voted in on a direct promise to provide a referendum arguing that to deny students one “would be slapping democracy in the face”.
Worried that the referendum would yield an unrepresentative response, an amendment was suggested that there must be a 25% minimum voter turn-out for the referendum to pass. This would require roughly 5500 students voting. However, this amendment was rejected by the council.
With regards to the rejected 25% turn-out amendment, Billy said that he was afraid to set a “paper target” that might then stand in the way of what the students chose. “We want 100% of students to vote, but we have to be realistic”.
One amendment on the issue was passed, stating that an independent committee must create an unbiased pack of information regarding the referendum. So, there will be a chance for you to learn all the reasons for and against joining the NUS before you make your decision at the end of November.
The rest of Union Council was mainly taken up with electing various committees for the next academic year. All positions were filled, with the exception of school president for Art and Education, and school Vice-President for Physiotherapy, Midwiffery, Social Work and Social Statistics. These positions will be contested again at the next meeting. Physics President will be decided through an election within the School of Physics, after candidates demanded that they should be elected by their peers.