Why YUSU’s changes miss the mark

Belmore argues that the changes put more power into the hands of YUSU hacks. ©YUSU

YUSU have recently proposed changes to the way they deal with policy, so that it is largely in the hands of the “assemblies”, who decide YUSU’s main policies for the year.

However, this idea is entirely misguided, and will take power out of the hands of ordinary students and place it firmly in the hands of YUSU hacks.

I am in the rare (and some may say unfortunate) position of having attended several YUSU assemblies this year, the very bodies that YUSU want to be in charge with telling students what they “believe”. I have noticed several things.

The first is that they are incredibly dull, as one angry hack stands up to “condemn” the university, and then a long discussion follows on, often into the finest minutiae of policy.

The second is that they are always attended by the same old suspects. It doesn’t matter whether its community, academic, welfare or student activities, between 50 and 80% of attendees will be the same hacks, often making the same arguments.

The third is that discussions tend to ramble on, often with the very same hacks seemingly speak for the sake of speaking, rather than to contribute anything useful to the debate.

Finally, I noticed that the very poor attendance swelled during the YUSU elections. Yet whilst some might hope that this was because there was a wave of interest driven up by the elections, it seemed more down to the fact that candidates and their campaign teams felt that they “ought” to go to the assemblies in order to “show their face”.

All in all, therefore, it hardly seems an environment which your average student would want to turn up to – and this bears out in attendance. Us journalists covering the event are usually the only people there who aren’t JCRC or YUSU position holders.

Therefore for YUSU to suggest that by giving these assemblies almost unbridled power to set the campaigning direction is giving “power to students” is highly disingenuous. Surely the one thing we learnt from the BAE referendum was that whilst an idea may be wildly popular amongst left-wing YUSU hacks (and indeed the motion received very strong backing from YUSU’s community assembly), this often does not represent the views of ordinary students.

By giving such large decision making power to these assemblies, YUSU are effectively saying that it is okay for a small group of extremists to turn up to the poorly attended assemblies and demand that YUSU campaign on their cause, which the majority of students may well disagree with.

One of the main defences I have heard of the idea from YUSU hacks is that we need this so that at the freshers’ talk next year, the President can stand up and say “this is your union, and this is what we stand for”, which will encourage fresh-faced first years to get involved in their union.

Yet I have two problems with this. First, I find the idea that the student body is considered so homogeneous that one single set of policies can represent us all galling. Why can’t we celebrate the fact that our student body has a diverse spectrum of opinion on a wide range of issues, rather than try and create a set of policies which students are expected to mindlessly “believe in”

Further, do YUSU really believe that anyone (beyond a few opinionated politics students) go into that freshers talk thinking, what I really need is someone to come and tell me what their organisation believes in. Of course not, I know (even as a highly politicised individual) that my concerns were “will I get on with my housemates”, “how do I cope with the transition to independent living” and “will there be an organisation there to support me if things go wrong”.

You’re not going to enthuse anyone to get involved in the union if you push out Kallum Taylor as some sort of policy firebrand, telling freshers what their union “believes”, rather than how their union can support them.

YUSU are trying to get these changes passed through the back door, and instead of putting them to a student wide vote, it is going to the YUSU AGM which will be largely attended by the same hacks that attend assemblies.

Of course they will line up to vote in favour of a policy which gives them the right to set YUSU’s campaigning future, but we as ordinary students, the people who don’t hold fancy titles, should vote this down.

We should tell YUSU that if it wants to set its campaigning priorities and policies, it should ask the whole student body, not just the few who are enthusiastic enough to turn up to the Assemblies. Join me on June 14th to keep students in charge of the union, not just those who run for positions.

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