Referendum on NUS disaffiliation

BREAKING: Oxford SU to hold referendum on NUS affiliation

The Oxford Student Union is to hold a binding referendum on whether it should remain affiliated to the NUS. The vote, which will be open to all Student Members, must be held within 8 term time weeks. Under the Student Union’s regulations, the question must be “Oxford SU is currently affiliated to the National Union of Students. Should it continue to be affiliated: yes or no?”. 

The referendum will come after a motion to hold such a referendum was proposed by Ciaron Tobin and seconded by Mundher Ba Shammakh in Student Council this week. Both proposer and seconder are former NUS delegates, and, in their motion, they noted that they had seen the value of NUS over the last year. 

The motion, which had previously been withdrawn from another Student Council meeting over concerns regarding the wording and wider issues, was passed by a significant majority, paving the way for the referendum. However, before it was passed, the motion was amended significantly: a point about the recent report into antisemitism in NUS was added in the “Council Notes” section of the motion, while the “Council Believes” section was rewritten so as to state that the council had a “duty to refer the question of affiliation to the whole membership”, rather than arguing that “The SU should disaffiliate with the NUS”.

The vote will be held over a period of 58 hours to be determined by the Returning Officer, but it must start at 8am on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and end at 6pm on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

As part of the referendum procedure, two Official Campaigns must be established, with one group campaigning for a positive response and the other a negative. These groups must have a campaign leader and they must both submit campaign statements to the SU’s Returning Officer, Joe Bell. 

Ciaron Tobin, the proposer of the motion, commented on it being passed: “I hope to see the referendum as a needed debate no matter the outcome.” He further told the OxStu “I hope disaffiliation for even only a mere year will catalyse the NUS to make changes. Once these issues are solved, we should re-join the NUS.”

The last time such a referendum was held was 2016, which drew a turnout of 27.7%. The referendum was held after accusations of antisemitism were made against the then newly elected NUS President Malia Bouattia. In that referendum, 57.1% of votes backed affiliation, with 3409 votes cast in favour of remaining in NUS, while 2430 voted to disaffiliate.

The 2016 referendum was beset by controversy after both campaigns were accused of electoral malpractice. The Yes to NUS group used the New College JCR mailing list to circulate material, while No Thanks NUS campaigned in the closed Christ Church JCR Facebook Group. 

This referendum will be held in light of the damning report into antisemitism within NUS that was published last month. The report, commissioned by the NUS in May 2022, was conducted by Rebecca Tuck KC and laid out numerous incidents of antisemitism within the NUS. The report states that Jewish students were “subjected to harassment” and set out recommendations for the future.

Multiple incidents were referenced, including the failure to include Judaism on an official form in 2018 when all other faiths were listed and using a prayer room for political meetings. Other issues cited in the report were the election of candidates with a history of making antisemitic comments and a motion to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in 2016 receiving opposition speakers.

The report cited testimony given to the Union of Jewish Students after the 2021 NUS Liberation Conference by a delegate, whose experience at the conference left them “personally shaking and almost in tears”. The NUS reportedly viewed some complaints as being made in “bad faith to try and avert pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel policy advocacy”.

Image Description: The railing around the Sheldonian Theatre