NUS Referendum FARCE

This article was sent to the Soton Tab by a concerned student. The world of SUSU politics is rather dull and something The Tab doesn’t take an interest in. But […]

This article was sent to the Soton Tab by a concerned student.

The world of SUSU politics is rather dull and something The Tab doesn’t take an interest in. But now with the NUS Referendum heating up, campaign teams are left battling with a host of SUSU induced problems before they can effectively campaign for your vote.

So far in the lead up to this Referendum we’ve had discontent at Sabbaticals being allowed to actively campaign but, as SUSU’s rulebook states, they’re allowed to do so for whichever team they like- as long as they also do all the work which they’re paid to do. This isn’t much of an issue now as both the Yes and No teams are left bickering towards each other on issues which they have no control over.

After checking out the No and Yes Facebook pages, it seems both groups’ posts are a platform for attacks on each other. There are no real debates on issues or arguments, just fighting over whose facts are correct and who has the better source to back up points. In fact, I don’t really know who to believe but it’s neither team’s fault for not presenting their arguments in a straight forward way. SUSU are to blame for the poor handling of this referendum which has led to the immaturity expressed by members from both teams in the comment box. It’s disgraceful that students are attacking each other and throwing energy into pointless debates which have nothing to do with the NUS.

Legitimate questions are asked by ordinary students and those from the opposing team, only to be met with insulting, patronising and arrogant responses, particularly from Sabbatical Officers – something which I thought better from them. It’s not what I expected from elected officers who are there to support students and run the Union, not use the comment box to gang up on the people they’re meant to be representing.

SUSU commissioned an independent auditors report at a price of around £5,000 to list costs of a potential NUS affiliation which is barely readable to the average student. Campaign teams have been left to interpret figures as they see fit without any guidance from SUSU. If a member from each team would like to enquire about an aspect of SUSU’s finances they would be forbidden to speak to the staff in that department in fear of breaking the Staff-Student Protocol. Instead, a student must liaise with Sam Ling, Union President, who is an active Yes campaigner. This poses risks as truly impartial information requested is unlikely to reach a student. But this is where SUSU should help students.

At the last Referendum in 2010 (which the outcome was No and considerably higher than the votes for Yes) an extremely beneficial fact sheet was drawn up, presenting easy-to-read facts and figures which the average student could understand, which is nothing to be said for this year’s auditor’s report.

2010’s referendum also leads the way in rules. An extensive document detailing the do’s and don’t’s made it clear for candidates on what was acceptable. However at barely over a page long, 2012’s rules are minimal, unrestrictive and open to interpretation. It also appears that SUSU has broken policies which they set and supposedly enforce. A Union policy which is still active states that:

This referendum should be student led, carrying the normal election rules, with both a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaign.

However, this referendum is lacking the normal election rules allowing campaigns teams access to a host of techniques, including spamming closed Facebook groups and mailing lists. It seems that campaign teams have barely any restrictions on what they can’t do.

Transparency from SUSU has been poor. A referendum-subcommittee was appointed, headed by the impartial VP Communications, David Gilani, to facilitate the running of the referendum. Yet after holding several meetings since the beginning of term, not a single account of these have been released or even recorded, leaving students to question the running of this referendum.

This news comes at a worse time for SUSU as plans to scrap minutes altogether to produce a useless list of actions and decisions from meetings. Rumours arising suggest this potential idea is down to the current minute taking being too expensive, yet SUSU seem to have a spare £51k ready for (potential) NUS affiliation. Students can only suppose that trashing minutes in future not only stinks of saving money for ‘other things’ but also blurring transparency of a (supposedly) democratic Union.

All of these shameful downfalls from SUSU make me question their stance towards the NUS. A lack of easily interpreted facts and figures on the website, severely laxed rules and a lack of openness from Union officers and meetings make me wonder whether this referendum really is impartial and is being run effectively. When SUSU can deal with these issues, only then will the comment shit-storms on campaign pages turn into an effective debate into the initial question at hand.

SUSU is supposed to support students but, when compared to 2010, it seems unhelpful and unwilling to facilitate students in making an informed decision on a serious issue.

Let us know what you think in the Comments section below.