By Anna Tatham
The Durham Union Society held an “emergency debate” on the increasingly disputed issue of whether Durham Students’ Union should disaffiliate from the NUS.
The Friday Night Debate was led by strong arguments from both sides, debating whether Durham should accompany numerous Students’ Unions across the county and break off from the National Union of Students. Distaste for the NUS has made headlines recently upon the election of Malia Bouattia as its new President.
Bouattia’s appointment has evoked questions about the NUS’ election system, as well as concurrent qualms surrounding her alleged antisemitic and ISIS-sympathetic stance.
The debate featured four prominent speakers from the Durham political scene: proponents included Mackenzie Young, Durham Psychology student, supported by Jade Azim, President of Durham University Labour Club and former candidate in the running for Durham SU President. On the opposing side, advanced debater George Walker was accompanied by Harry Cross, Durham’s delegate to the NUS Conference.
Whilst turnout was rather sparse, those who were present were emotive in their responses to arguments, particularly those raised by Azim and Cross.
The debate opened with Young confidently criticising the NUS and its questionable “democratic” nature. Young picked apart the NUS’ claims to represent the voice of seven million students and highlighted the lack of student involvement, something he stated is heightened by the somewhat circular election system of elected representatives electing further representatives.
George Walker admitted that there are issues with the NUS, yet stated that they can be corrected. Walker claimed that disaffiliation would be a divisive move, and highlighted that previous attempts to form alternative unions away from the NUS, such as the United Students’ Union, have proved unsuccessful.
Jade Azim retorted by branding the NUS an “ineffective shield,” and argued that there is little hope for universities affiliated with managerial unions. She commended the passion shown by Malia Bouattia in her NUS presidency, however attacked the NUS for holding debates on distant conflicts such as Syria.
Cheers were heard from the chamber as Azim blamed the irrelevance of NUS debates as a key reason for the deficit of participation. She stressed the need for activism to solve issues beyond consultation, to make headlines and protest for real change.
Harry Cross offered an interesting perspective on the debate, as one of Durham’s delegates to the NUS.
Cross praised the NUS and noted its successes, such as reducing the increase in Durham rents by 3.5% compared to the proposed 9%, and contended that the vast majority of work done by the NUS does not filter through to national media.
The debate then opened up to the floor, and DUS members were eager to put forward their thoughts about the NUS.
One member insisted on putting issues with Bouattia aside and instead asking the question, “What does the NUS actually do?”, and stated that Durham Students’ Union functions effectively without NUS backing.
It was evident that many members felt the views of the seven million students which the NUS represent inevitably differ and responsibility should be handed to individual university unions.
As neatly summed up by George Jackson, President-Elect of DUS, it was an “insightful debate.” The outcome was in resounding support of the motion.
The queue for the following Discussion Panel on Western Involvement in the Middle East was out of the Pemberton Building doors, whereas significantly fewer members attended the NUS debate.
Photograph: Peter Bonnett