This article was originally published in Cherwell on 27 May 2016.
Campaigns for the NUS referendum were launched this week, with both ‘Yes to NUS’ and ‘No Thanks, NUS’ unveiling their official manifestos and beginning to canvas throughout the university.
The campaign launches come a week before polling opens for the referendum, which follows a period of controversy in the national union due to the election of Malia Bouattia, who was accused of anti-semitism, as NUS national president.
Speaking about the campaign launch, Becky Howe, OUSU president and co-leader of ‘Yes to NUS’ said, “We have got a really amazing bunch of students we’re working with on this, and whilst it is really, really time consuming, it is definitely being helped by how many people are giving time and energy to this.”
Her co-leader and OUSU vice-president Lucy Delaney, added, “We’re pretty exhausted but also still quite spurred on. I think adrenaline characterises it, and we’ve got a fantastic, fantastic, dedicated campaign. Everybody is equally doing so much: there’s no hierarchy.”
Howe continued, “What we want to try and do with the campaign is make sure as many voices as possible are heard and as many people get to express why the NUS is invaluable to them but, hand-in-hand with that, making sure that people are aware of actually what NUS does.”
Representative of ‘No Thanks NUS’ and former OUSU vice-president Jack Matthews told Cherwell, “It’s been a great start to the campaign, with so many people offering their time and support. What’s especially encouraging is hearing from those who voted ‘yes’ two years ago, who’ve seen for themselves how promises of reform from within have proved false, and are now supporting a ‘no’ vote.
“The key thing for us is to engage students from across Oxford in this debate, give them the facts and figures, and show them we have a strong and sensible OUSU that can represent us. We’ve been out at the common room debates where the response has been really positive and, as polling day approaches, you’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more from the ‘No Thanks, NUS’ team.”
Since the launches, a number of independent organisations have released official statements outlining their position.
The university’s Jewish Society has announced its support for ‘No Thanks NUS’, but will not be contributing to campaigns as an organisation nor releasing further comment beyond their initial statement, president Isaac Virchis told Cherwell. However, their individual members will be free to campaign as they wish.
Mind Your Head, an Oxford-based student mental health charity, have gone on record in support of ‘Yes to NUS’ but take a similar line regarding campaigning.
Co-chair Jack Schofield commented, “I don’t think we’re going to get too involved. Individual members of committee are welcome in a private way to do as they wish. Yes, it is our official policy that we endorse a vote to remain in the NUS, but in general I think we have made our statement and we probably won’t be doing too much more, as we do, in general, try not to be political, and we do just want to keep campaigning on issues of mental health in Oxford.”
The campaigners themselves are, by their own admission, unsure about what level of voter turnout to expect, but the general mood around the city seems apathetic, and at best ambivalent. Some students expressed uncertainty as to the nature and causation of the referendum, while others told Cherwell they are unlikely to vote.
There were some undecided voters present at a well-attended referendum debate at St. Hilda’s on Wednesday 25 May, where Howe and Matthews delivered pre-drafted speeches in addition to fielding questions from the audience just six days before polls open on May 31.