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CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should YUSU support a second referendum?

Alex Howarth and Daniel Clark put forward the cases for both sides YUSU's latest referendum.

Photo Credit: YUSU

VOTE YES - Have your say (Alex Howarth)

A Yes vote will make YUSU work to protect your interests by fighting for a People’s Vote

Why, you might ask, have I decided to devote so much time that could have been spent not failing my degree, campaigning for a Yes vote in the current referendum? Isn’t it all just a bit pointless?


Not in the slightest. It is absolutely right that YUSU should take a stance on a People’s Vote. The Students’ Union must represent the views of its students on an issue that will have a disastrous impact on universities across the nation. Brexit is a national issue that has destructive local consequences. It is strongly opposed by the majority of graduates and young people. It is just obvious that, if YUSU is to represent York students, this referendum is the right course of action. A Yes vote, meeting the 5% quoracy total, would give YUSU and its officers a clear mandate to campaign for a People’s Vote.


The bald facts are these: at least 70% of 18-24-year-olds voted to Remain in 2016. Most current undergraduates were too young to even have had a say at that Referendum. Yet it is their education that is put at risk by the prospect of any Brexit at all, but in particular a no-deal Brexit. There is, after all, no guarantee that UK universities will remain part of the Erasmus programme after 2020. The Russell Group of universities (of which York is a member) took in more than half a billion pounds in funding from EU research grants and contracts in 2014/15 which they would stand to lose post-Brexit, while York has been forced to negotiate its own Maastricht Treaty to try and mitigate the likely loss of much of its EU research funding, which stands at approximately £10.5m p/a (15% of the University’s annual research funding).


So telling students that YUSU should not be taking a position on this issue, as the No campaign is doing, surely cannot be right. This loss of funding will surely have a negative impact on York’s reputation as a research-led University, thus diminishing the perceived value of a York degree and potentially damaging the quality of teaching.


Telling an already-disenfranchised group of students that their SU shouldn’t take a position on the most important political issue of the day does nothing to help student engagement. Yes, there are problems with YUSU, but these are not problems that can be fixed without the help of students, and only focusing on the ‘small issues,’ as the No side suggested during the referendum debate, will make the problem worse, not better.

And No’s only objections to the motion - that it would make YUSU spend money to campaign for a People’s Vote that could be better spent elsewhere (it wouldn’t - the motion says nothing at all about funding), and that asking the people to vote is somehow undemocratic - have no substance to them at all. YUSU does not exist to represent the will of the nation; it exists to represent the will of York’s students.


A Yes vote will make YUSU more representative. It will allow YUSU to campaign against the loss of funding that will result from Brexit. It will take us closer to the quoracy requirement - whichever way the vote goes, it cannot be acted on unless 5% (about 1000) of the electorate votes. There isn’t long left - voting closes on Wednesday and we need your help. Vote Yes to have your say on Brexit and make YUSU work for students. Vote Yes to force YUSU to support a People’s Vote, avoid a damaging Brexit and let the people have the final say.


VOTE NO - Don’t let YUSU disregard the disenchanted (Daniel Clark)


Voting “No” in this referendum will tell the traditionally disenfranchised ‘leave’ voters of 2016 that their voices matter.


Professor John Curtice is a polling god. He has analysed opinions towards Scottish independence, and has predicted, with startlingly accuracy, various general election results. His new research on, you guessed it, Brexit, has uncovered some interesting facts.

He discovered that, of those who voted leave in 2016, 83% would vote to leave again. On the other hand, of those who voted remain, 87% would vote remain again. This, he emphasises, is not because original leave voters have suddenly decided they don’t want Brexit anymore but because ‘leave voters are saying they wouldn’t bother to vote again.’


And who did vote leave? They’re most likely to be in the bottom three social classes, and make up almost two thirds of the people living in council or housing association accommodation. In other words, they’re the traditionally disenfranchised, the people who ordinarily don’t go out to vote. In 2016, that changed: people who usually feel that there’s not much point in voting opted to leave the failed political project that is the European Union.

Fast forward to 2019, and they’re being told that they got it ‘wrong’ the first time, that they need to be given another chance to vote the ‘right’ way. Be it Tony Blair calling for a second referendum from the elite epicentre of Davos, or Guy Verhofstadt strongly suggesting that those who voted to leave the EU are ‘stupid’, the message is clear.


This week, in this referendum, our university could echo these sentiments. We could vote in favour of YUSU campaigning for a second referendum, something without adequate support amongst MPs, and send the very clear message that we don’t care about the message from those in the bottom three social classes of our country.


Or we can vote “No.” We can reject the narrative that the leave voters of 2016 are like children who need another go at getting it right. We can send the message that our university isn’t a bastion of privilege, as universities are so often portrayed. And, above all, we can send the message that we respect the democratic will of 17.4 million people.


There’s more. Should this motion be passed, resources and money will have to be diverted to YUSU’s efforts to campaign for a second referendum. Wouldn’t it be better for these resources, this money, to be spent on improving our wellbeing services? Giving more support to our student media? £1 pints in D-Bar? (I say this in jest though if YUSU want this to be their next referendum, I formally register my interest in being the figurehead.)

The great, late, Tony Benn, gave us five questions to ask of the powerful. The fifth was simple: “How can we get rid of you?” In 2016, the (predominantly) working classes of our country knew exactly how we could do that, and we voted to leave. We’d had enough of the current state of affairs, and so we acted on it.


Our right to speak against the powerful is one that was hard fought for, and is a right denied to the millions of those who continue to not live in a democracy. Yet, in 2019, we forget about this most valuable of principles. On a base level, this forgetfulness meant that somebody tore down some of our campaign posters, and threw them in a nearby bin. On a much bigger scale, this forgetfulness means that there are calls for a second referendum on our EU membership, openly chastising those who ‘forgot’ the way they were ‘meant’ to vote.


Don’t let YUSU join that choir. Vote “No” in this referendum, and send the clear message that we, as a university, want to listen.

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