I’ve had the joy of campaigning in not just one, but two NUS affiliation referendums. On both occasions, democracy reform was high on the list of concerns. But last year we were able to say that a review was coming. And, at this conference, delegates voted through the democracy review – a huge success, long overdue.
But York, we need to talk about your obsession with One Student One Vote (OSOV). An obsession that got Alex Lusty trying to filibuster the NUS democracy review motion – something resulting from a widespread and year-long consultation – because OSOV wasn’t on it.
After being a part of the NUS campaigns twice, and listening to the grievances of the student body, I was extremely fortunate to be a sabbatical officer during the democracy review. I promoted the survey to our students and took as many opportunities as I could to attend NUS events and ensure York students’ concerns were heard. But while most people have been pro-reform, I can’t say the same for OSOV. And you all deserve to know why.
First, two-thirds of the NUS’ membership is further education SUs. Comparatively, we have a large, engaged membership, a block grant, a lot of staff and the resources and infrastructure that smaller, specialist unions just don’t have. We can facilitate OSOV and engage our members on it in a way other SUs can’t. Democratic change should only occur to make it more accessible and, at present, it’s felt that implementing OSOV does the exact opposite for most of the NUS’ membership.
Second, the concern of accessibility of campaigning at a national level. Candidates running for the NUS are either students or working full-time. To campaign at SUs across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be expensive, tiring and probably not that effective. To expect most young people to be able to campaign to seven million students across the country is ridiculous. It would disadvantage carers, students with access needs and those from smaller and specialist Unions – voices we should be raising not shutting out.
Third, the decrease in scrutiny with direct democracy instead of a delegative democracy. To get attention and support on a national level would require a wide network to improve one’s reach to catchy populism.
The first is something incumbents would gain an advantage in, being already known on a national level. It would have those who’re unknown focus on where most students are: London. And the latter would mean publicity comes before policy and politics; students are infamous for not reading manifestos to scrutinise candidates – a funny campaign video often garners attention. OSOV would enshrine the incumbent advantage, reduce scrutiny and make everything London-centric.
Students being disenfranchised with the NUS is an issue, but OSOV isn’t the solution! YUSU needs to shout about everything the NUS is and does for the SU and for students. It’s our fault if we fail to do that, not the NUS’.