Well, the votes are in and the students have spoken. The NUS is here to stay. With an overwhelming 72% of the 1389 votes cast in favour of continued affiliation, it’s time for those of us who disagreed originally to now look for positives. Let’s face it, there was never a very big chance that the no-vote was going to triumph, but 26% is still a significant minority. All those who voted no sent a message to the NUS: from now on, things have to change. To the 27 of you who abstained, why?
Before looking to the future, it is worth briefly examining the process of the referendum. Two main points stick out. Firstly, the strength of the campaign to stay with the NUS was much greater than that of its opposition, aided as it was by national figures like President Gemma Tumelty. That over a quarter of the admirable number of people who voted still weren’t won over should be duly noted by anyone who thinks that there is little scepticism about the purpose and organisation of the NUS.
Secondly, the quite impressive gaffe of publishing the number of votes for each side on the YUSU website as they came in was made all the more embarrassing by the outside interest in this issue. A high turnout is a rare thing in student politics. Mistakes like this one need to stop if there is any hope of keeping people interested in who represents them, and under the belief that they have any influence on the things done on their behalf. Voting is not just about the final outcome: the process is just as important.
There is little point in merely criticising from the sidelines. For those who think that the NUS needs to improve before it can meet the needs of students at the University of York, a more active approach is required. The campaign against affiliation may still be a partial success even if it did not achieve its original aim, because we can take from it positive things the NUS can do about problems such as the parlous state of its finances and the ineffectiveness of some of its campaigns.
It has been decided that we are to carry on working with the NUS, so work with them we must. But this relationship cannot be uncritical if it is to be successful and rewarding for both parties. There seems to be a general feeling that for all the good the NUS does do, it is still largely unaccountable to us, its members. More constructive dialogue is needed if we want to get the most out of NUS affiliation and the potential benefits that it can give us. If the advantages are to outweigh the problems, the NUS needs to be told what it is getting right and where it is going wrong. Let’s hope it can balance its budget, come out with a positive agenda and prove us doubters wrong.