Delay tactics and a vague understanding of democracy at tonight’s meeting…
The NUS Referendum passed tonight at the first week OUSU council meeting following several amendments to the motion. There was much heated discussion and the whole event ended up running far over the meeting’s allotted time, an indication of the issue’s contentious nature.
The first amendment to the motion passed, changing the intended date of the referendum from Trinity 2016 to Michaelmas 2016. The important point was then raised that OUSU only has the opportunity to disaffiliate with the NUS each summer, such that under the amendment, OUSU would then not be leaving until the end of Trinity 2017, a substantial change to the effect of the referendum. The proposition raised the point that unless the disaffiliation was immediate, incoming and prospective students could be deterred from joining the university. A second amendment was then proposed to move the referendum even further to Trinity 2017, on the logic that Michaelmas 2016 was “a busy term”. After failing to pass, the piece of paper on which it was delivered was torn up and thrown high into the air, much the the amusement of the audience and delegates. Another amendment was then proposed, and then passed, to move it back to its original date of Trinity 2016. What an efficient political system we have…
On the proposition side, the initial arguments were predictable: speakers argued that the referendum was about giving people a say and being democratic, not about increasing chances of OUSU voting to leave the NUS, despite subsequent speakers focusing largely on the relative values of the NUS and bringing up the recent election of the controversial Malia Bouattia.
The opposition was quick to defend Malia but the main argument of the opposition was that it was undemocratic to hold a vote during such a busy term because those involved in liberation movements, considered the people who most wanted to vote to stay in NUS, would be unable to campaign effectively. The NUS was defended for their work fighting for the rights of disabled students and students with mental health problems, and recently electing their first trans representative, as well as electing Malia – the organisation’s first black female muslim president. During the closing arguments Becky Howe, OUSU president, nearly burst into tears when expressing her desire to stay in the NUS. One speaker suggested that the time spent on a referendum and leaving the NUS should be used on building the student community, and not “shitting all over” intra-faith relations.
Additional controversy included a Cherwell journalist attempting to video the whole conference and being ejected from the room after she was informed this was illegal. Not all student journalism can be as good as VERSA…
To add to the controversy, there have been accusations on Twitter from people who attended the meeting that Taisie Tsikas, the Wadham SU President, implored voters to leave the hall while the votes were being counted so as to remove quorum and invalidate the vote. She tweeted “Leave and it’s not Quorum!!” and “WALK OUT IF YOU OPPOSE”, leading Jack Matthews, a former OUSU official, to respond “I am so deeply sad at what just happened. Our democracy is dying”. The chair had to clarify that leaving so as to disrupt quorum was undemocratic.
It was decided to hold the vote as a secret ballot. This decision was made on the grounds that voters would be at risk of abuse based on their voting position if the information was made public. This caused additional controversy because there was now no way to tell whether or not mandated JCR members had voted the way they had been requested to by their constituents.
Taisie Tsikas has been contacted for comment.
It all seems to have been a bit of a debacle, but with the referendum set to go ahead, it will be the students who decide whether or not we leave the NUS.