Why I am opposed to St Andrews joining the NUS

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Holly Patrick and Ben Anderson have told us why they’re voting yes in the NUS referendum (see it here). Ben Adams presents the other side of the argument.

So the NUS campaigns are underway, and that means there’s an argument to be had. I’m going to vote NO to the NUS referendum, and I’m going to spend much of the next week, starting now, trying to convince other people to vote NO with me.

About all that the YES campaign can offer in terms of benefits to St Andrews is, according to their Facebook page, the meaningless promise to “put St Andrews on the map,” and the argument that, “We need to be members so our voice can be heard.” Even when presented by its supporters, this seems a somewhat nebulous benefit, but what they’re not telling you is what getting this “voice” actually means. Basically, for our £20,000 contribution, we’ll be allowed to send three delegates to vote at the annual NUS Convention – a convention that has 1,500 delegates already. In meaningful terms, we’ll have about as much influence as Finland has in the UN.

We are not a particularly rich University, in fact our budget projection for this year, due to the restructuring of the semesters, shows that the Union will run at a deficit this year of about £8,500. That money is going to make a substantial dent in somebody’s budget, probably from student events. Apparently we ran Fresher’s week this year on less money than we’d be giving away. Moreover, nobody on the YES campaign actually seems capable of articulating what the problem is that this massive expenditure would solve: our student elections have the highest turnout in Britain, our student satisfaction is superlative and our academic results top the country’s league tables. We benefit from an exceptionally strong relationship with Ming Campbell, who honoured his pledge to oppose tuition fees despite the fact we are not NUS members, and we have constructed good relations with the town to discuss issues such as student housing and sustainable energy. I fail to see how these relationships would be much improved by introducing an unpopular national organisation to do our negotiation for us.

The few sensible policies the NUS propose are things we pursue on our own anyway. They passed a resolution to develop Student Unions – which we’re doing, because it’s a bit obvious that that would be a good thing. Their efforts to fight under-engagement in student societies isn’t really needed at a University that could, in my opinion, actually benefit from a few fewer shinty-ists. They’re bigger than me and tend to take advantage of this fact when trying to get to a crowded bar. Try and find enough room to stand comfortably at the annual Fresher’s Fayre and then convince yourself that we need advice on how to engage students in extra-curricular activities from an institution that’s failed to achieve it elsewhere.

And look, even if the NUS were actually pursuing desirable ends, it would be incapable of achieving them. It has an appalling reputation with politicians, the media and the general public, who view it as unreasonable, militant and childish. It’s thoroughly earned its bad name with its naïvely utopian policies, its collusion in the criminality of the Millbank Tower riots, and its general unwillingness to compromise or live in the real world. The fact nobody outside the organisation actually cares what it thinks serves to make it more or less useless as a vehicle for wider political representation, as is evident from their total lack of results when it comes to influencing government policy for our benefit. They’ve got a vast annual budget, but go to the “our successes” section of their website and see what they’ve achieved for that money. Apparently they once succeeded in asking a select committee to make a recommendation, and their president got to give a speech at the TUC conference last year. Wow.

I think the no-platform policy is absurd and insulting. I believe that we will defeat these people not by hiding from them or by ducking a fight, but by ensuring that whenever they show their ugly face in public we defeat the pathetic arguments they make, expose the absurdity of their positions and humiliate and denounce them for their callousness and crudity. Every time we do so we strength the truth through its opposition with lies, and every time we fail to do so we reinforce the perception that these ideas are too powerful, too commanding to be heard in public, and confirm the narrative that exists in their minds that the State is unfairly victimising them. We must show such people, as often as we can, that the mainstream of British society is not secretly sympathetic to their views, but rather considers them loathsome and abhorrent.

The NUS consists of self-righteous rebels in search of an ego-stroke, idealists in search of a soap-box and vacillating, self-serving Aaron Porter style careerists in search of a safe Labour seat by the time they’re twenty-five. It is in a constant state of disarray, suffers regular disaffiliation referenda and is permanently on the brink of financial meltdown. Their ideas are hopeless and they’re even more hopeless at achieving them. Their promises are empty. They’ll take your money and mine, money currently spent by our own elected representatives to enhance societies and programs that have real and tangible effects here in St Andrews, and in return they’ll try and flog us a useless discount card, censor our press and societies and as send us some megaphone wielding Trotskyists to deliver “activist training.” No thanks. The 2011 SU elections proved that if St Andrews wants a megaphone wielding Trotskyist, it’s more than capable of electing a rather dashing, friendly and helpful one all by itself. Indeed, St Andrews is capable of doing most things for itself, and there is no good reason why it shouldn’t keep on doing so.

The NUS claims to stand for student representation, for empowering students and for enhancing the student experience. These are the exact reasons that I urge you to vote NO with me this week: to protect our budget; the autonomy of our representatives and the dignity of our University.

Voting closes at 6pm on Friday, with the result to be announced at 9pm.

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