Image Credit: willowbarbican
You may not have noticed but your ‘elected’ National Union of Students (NUS) delegates attended the annual NUS conference in Glasgow. With exceptionally low turnout, I somehow got elected. I must have more friends than I thought. Four other delegates including the Union President and myself set off to Glasgow to a conference that the majority of students don’t know takes place, for an organisation mostly seen as nothing more than a discount card.
I’m a Conservative, as those who know me will be well aware of. So, I’ve been asked to write a piece for Nouse about my experience of the conference from the point of view of a conservative delegate. So how would I describe by experience of the conference in one word: unsurprising.
This conference was ‘historic’, well, in the sense that the NUS finally realised they actually needed to do something about their financial situation and reform before they go bankrupt. So, during the first-time delegate training at 10am on the first day, we were advised by those running the show to vote through these reforms.
The first day itself was presidential elections. As you walk into the conference centre during breaks, you are bombarded by various individuals wearing different coloured shirts and stickers indicating the faction they’re endorsing and asking you to vote for. Remember that most students at NUS are not there to represent the actual students at their respective universities. They are there to promote their radical political philosophy. On one leaflet, a candidate proudly declared herself a “revolutionary socialist”. I can say, as a Conservative, she did not get my vote as I’m not sure how well I’d come out of a revolution.
Factions are a defining feature of NUS. People check their WhatsApp and various messenger apps to check how to vote. This unfortunate, as ideology often gets in the way of debating what actually matters for students around the country. I decided before the conference that I would not get involved in factions, which was a good decision as the closest thing to a Tory faction was run by my friend from school. Let’s just say they were the smallest and most unpopular faction, using procedural motions to filibuster. This year the Presidency shifted to the left, undoing the good work on reform done by Shakira Martin.
As I have mentioned, this year’s conference was one of the most important in the NUS’s almost 100-year history. It faced financial collapse if reforms to the whole organisation were not passed. This was a controversial aspect of this year’s conference with many delegates from the left not happy with the reforms required to gain the bank loan and keep to the NUS obligations as part of the loan. While I’m against the NUS, I felt that it was important to vote for the reforms as it should be students at York who decide whether we wish to stay part of this organisation; voting to sabotage it would not be the morally right thing to do. I’d rather York students voted to leave via an on-campus referendum, and we must get that choice. Reforms were passed but unfortunately, so many amendments passed that I question how sensible this was, considering that the agreed upon loan relied upon the reforms passing pretty much unchanged.
I was very content that this year’s York delegation represented a wide range of views. I believe this resulted in all York students having a voice at this conference.
After the reform motions had been debated it moved onto motions, which are submitted by various students’ unions across the country. These range from motions relevant to students and motions that are a complete waste of time. The NUS would benefit from some honesty about the extent of its influence, although I was amused when someone advocated nationalisation of 150 of the top banks and companies. Motions included aspirations like this on issues that the NUS have little chance of influencing, yet hours are wasted on them.
Being a conservative delegate at NUS conference will not make you the most popular, but I felt proud to represent those views that do exist on campus and deserve a voice on the national student stage. With the NUS still on the brink, and students’ unions disaffiliating, should we jump before the ship sinks? I believe we deserve a say and in an on-campus referendum after my experiences at conference, I would vote to disaffiliate.