Last night’s referendum debate saw the coordinators of both the Yes and No campaigns for all four motions argue their case and respond to questions from the floor.
The proposal to remove The Sun from Yourshop, spearheaded by Helena Horton, saw the most debate of all the proposed motions. Horton clarified that the motion did not propose to ban The Sun from campus, but to stop selling it in Yourshop. She and Josef Crowther, seconder of the campaign, outlined their objections to The Sun, that it “dehumanises women and minorities”, “runs contrary to the basic principles that YUSU should aspire to” and that the newspaper should “not be supported by a student-run shop”.
Sophie Walker, coordinator of the No campaign, stated that she was “standing up for common sense” and that policy should not be dictated by a “small vocal minority”. She also raised the issue of classism, stating that “we’re judging people who read The Sun and sending a message that we don’t want these people on campus”.
Alix Dixon, a member of the audience, questioned why the proposal only aimed to ban The Sun and excluded other publications which could be deemed harmful to women and argued for a motion addressing the “root cause of why women are oppressed”. Other members of the audience attacked the claim that The Sun was offensive to ethnic minorities, asking how many people the Yes campaign had spoken to in order to gain this information.
Other motions debated were; ‘Should YUSU lobby the government to leave the EU?’, ‘Should YUSU introduce the proposed no-platform policy’, and ‘Should YUSU pay all its employees the living wage’.
The first motion debated was the motion to have YUSU lobby the government to leave the European Union. As it was without a coordinator for either side, Thomas Byrne, a third year politics student, argued in favour, and YUSU President, Kallum Taylor, against. Byrne urged students to vote in favour of the motion so that when it succeeded, it would be made obvious how pointless and “farcical” having YUSU lobby the government is.
He also made reference to the successful motion from last term’s referendum on whether the Union should lobby the government to adopt an evidence-based drugs policy. Taylor agreed that lobbying the government to leave the EU was not a good use of resources, asking the floor, “Do you really want to waste me time?”
The next motion debated was the no platform policy. Jacob Campbell, coordinator of the Yes campaign, emphasised the distinction between the “right to freedom of speech and the privilege of having a platform”. He stated that the campaign for a no platform policy did not constitute censorship, and that we should not give a platform to those who would restrict the freedoms of others.
Maddie Spink, coordinator of No campaign, countered Campbell’s arguments, denouncing the Yes campaign as “patronising to students” and as only working for “a minority on campus who would remove those who displease them”. She described the proposed policy as “blunt and simplistic” and that it seemed as if it had been “hastily scribbled on the back of UKIP manifesto”.
Curtis Sinclair, seconder of the Yes campaign, condemned both YUSU and various campus societies, claiming that “when it comes to outside speakers YUSU fails us” and that societies such LGBTQ Soc, Wom Com and the Racial Equalities officer had failed to protest when controversial speakers visited campus, telling them “you were nowhere and you did nothing”, a claim which was refuted several times from the floor.
Nick Button, Chair of the University of York Labour Club, spoke as the coordinator of the Yes campaign for the proposal to pay all YUSU staff the living wage. Button argued that YUSU ought to implement this policy being as it is Union policy to lobby the University to do the same. Button also mentioned that while all the University’s full-time employees may be paid the living wage, which is £7.45 per hour outside of London, there are many staff on short-term contracts, and subcontracted staff, who are not. There was no No campaign speaker for this motion, and little opposition from the floor.
The referendum debate was preceded by the AGM for the 2011-2012 academic year. Kallum Taylor presented the YUSU accounts for the previous financial year and gave an overview of how Union funds were split amongst sport, societies, charity, and other expenditures.