David Gilani

The Referendum is Coming?

Yes! Yes, it is. Thanks for asking.

In Elections Committee last Wednesday, the elections calendar of the year was approved, as was the date of an NUS Referendum. Voting will take place on 6th December, with scheduled debates and campaigning in the days and weeks leading up to this time.

SUSU had a referendum to join the NUS 2 years ago and voted “against joining”, however a motion was voted for at this year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) to hold a further referendum in the autumn term of the forthcoming academic year. Come December, every student will be able to take part by voting for whether they think SUSU should or shouldn’t be part of the NUS. Every student also has the opportunity to campaign in this process, and we shall be setting up a hub on the SUSU website where you can register your interest for campaigning on either side of the debate. *Watch this space*

The 2010 referendum branding

From the start of this process, we’ve made sure that SUSU can carry out this referendum in a fair and impartial manner to give students the best opportunity to hear both sides and make up their mind. This includes the creation of a Trustee Board sub-group (created only from impartial Trustee Board members) to evaluate the impact both financially and as an organisation; and the creation of an Elections Committee working group (created only from impartial members of elections committee) to compile the planning and help the running of the referendum on a day-to-day basis.

This means that you will be able to make an informed decision on the future of your Union. While all that might sound tedius, we’ve got a topic here for you to sink your teeth into.

It’s no secret that some of the Sabbatical team have strong opinions on the NUS referendum and might even become part of the campaign teams, but how should they be able to communicate that opinion to you? Is it fair that a Sabbatical, who you’ve elected to represent you and make decisions on your behalf, should also be able to tell you why they are campaigning the way they are (for example with their Sabbatical blog – this isn’t something that they’ve suggested, but just a hypothetical)? Or would this ability give them an unfair advantage, not in the spirit of the referendum?



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35 Comments on "The Referendum is Coming?"

  1. David
    23/08/2012 at 2:50 pm Permalink

    Hey Dave,

    It’s an excellent idea that we are running a referendum in to this as I wasn’t at the university to vote last time round. When it comes to Sabbs and their campaigning, they should campaign the way any other student will. This means not using their blogs or any source of media that a regular student does not have access to. We should treat this referendum like we do any other election.

  2. David
    Luke O'Brien
    23/08/2012 at 3:06 pm Permalink

    Spot on, using the SUSU blogs would give an unfair advantage. Any “manifestos” (for lack of a better word) should be publicised in the same way as an election candidates, fairly and impartially.

  3. David
    23/08/2012 at 3:06 pm Permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Josh.

    The referendum is different from your average election in the sense that there is no set period of campaigning and that the campaign teams won’t be representing a candidate, but an idea; however, it is also similar to an election in some ways, and one of those ways could perhaps be that Sabbaticals should take time off work to campaign, and not use any source of media that everyone else doesn’t have access to.

    Cheers for the thoughts

  4. David
    23/08/2012 at 3:15 pm Permalink

    Hi Dave,

    I understand the difference between the two elections, but we still shouldn’t give an advantage to any one side. I agree with them taking time away from their main role and focusing on their campaign for Yes or No. It is still an election, and we should still treat it that way, so by stating a rule that only impartial information about the referendum are published on the blog we keep it fair.

  5. David
    24/08/2012 at 7:39 am Permalink

    Hi Josh,

    Apologies for the delay in my reply. I’ve got 2 thoughts for you to consider, the first I truly believe in, the second I’ll just ask to play devil’s avocado to see what you think.

    1) Why do you see it as an election? We’re not voting for a candidate, but an idea – a policy. We should see a referendum much more like a motion at Union Council or the AGM, in which case we wouldn’t have any problem with SUSU Media attacking one side of the argument, or Sabbaticals campaigning for a particular side, because we would expect, or in fact even demand, that Sabbaticals give their opinion on what would be best for the Union.

    2) How far does ‘keeping it fair’ have to go? It’s an easy decision to enforce on the blogs, but if we’re doing it so that the election is fair, then surely we shouldn’t be encouraging / allowing any impartial information to go on Facebook – because that would be unfair? Any impartial campaigning on campus – because that would be unfair? Why stop at the website?

    It’d be great to hear your thoughts.

  6. David
    23/08/2012 at 3:03 pm Permalink

    I think that sabbatical shouldn’t be allowed to express their opinions on the NUS Referendum through any medium, including Facebook and twitter during the voting period or the months preceding. By becoming sabbs they have automatically connected with hundreds more people over social networking and I feel that it’s abusing their position if they do.

    Also, during other election periods, full time staff members are told to remain impartial and not discuss with students their voting opinions, and as Sabbs are full time staff as well, I feel they should have to keep to there rules too! This also should t just be for the referendum but for all election periods too. Either that, or allow all staff members to express their preferences publicly. It shouldn’t be one rule for support staff and one rule for sabbatical staff.

  7. David
    23/08/2012 at 4:30 pm Permalink

    Hey Oli, thanks for the comment.

    That’s a very interesting opinion about the use of social media. Would it just stop at Sabbaticals? Or would this extend down to Student Leaders who have connected with more students over social network? Union Councillors? JCR officers? Society Committee members? Surely they’ve all gained connection on social network sites by having their position?

    There’s a slight separation. Sabbaticals are officers of the Union, which is how they are allowed to campaign during elections (granted outside of working hours and without any benefits that their position grants them). It’s the same policy for student-staff, who are able to run and campaign in elections, but only outside of working hours. So in this sense there is a split between the rights & responsibilities of student-staff and core-staff (with Sabbaticals falling on the former side). That’s what our current policies state (although forgive me for rephrasing it in a probably very confusing way – I’m not an expert in this area! =P)

    Thanks again

  8. David
    23/08/2012 at 5:09 pm Permalink

    Yeah I understand the difficulty of working out how far down to go the chain with regards to social media. I think if they use their social media within their role then they shouldnt express views through it during election periods. For example, I know some of the student officers (sabbs included) have personal twitter accounts, and then twitter accounts which they use for their postion, ie posting out about events on campus, or to spread their blogs.
    Also, if the Sabbs do ‘take leave’ during the weeks of campaigning, then the link between their twitter feed and the SUSU website should be removed for this period so that their campaign messages can’t appear on that SUSU twitter feed.
    I’m also worried that if all the Sabbs decide that they want to campaign For or Against joining the NUS, and you all ‘take leave’ then who would be left running the Union for a week? Which puts you in the position of having to decide which Sabbs stay in work, and which ones campaign, which surely isn’t fair, and I feel that as figureheads of the Union, the Sabb team, and to an extent the Trustee’s should remain neutral during this period.
    Another reason for neutrality is that if a student who knows nothing about the NUS, hasn’t got time to read all the manifesto’s, and just wants to vote, may be swayed by seeing a Sabb endorsing one of the arguments, and therefore it may become just a popularity contest, with the Campaign with the more prominent students/Sabbs on winning.

    And thanks for clearing up the Sabbatical staff/not staff thing Dave!

  9. David
    23/08/2012 at 6:24 pm Permalink

    Hmm… interesting. What kind of things would you define as ‘using social media within their role’? I agree there isn’t as clear a separation because generally Southampton officers don’t have specific accounts for their role, but use personal ones for promotion of blogs, etc.

    Haha that is a fair concern, there potentially wouldn’t be many of us left to run the Union, but we’d have to create a system where some of us remained and some campaigned if it was a serious issue – if you look at elections this year, 3 Sabbs were running and another was campaigning, and we ‘survived’ =P

    In some ways I can see what you’re saying – about people who don’t care being swayed, but that will be true for all people. If anyone knows that their friends are voting for something, they will tend towards them – it’s what you can do when you trust someone’s judgement. However, just because the Sabbs say something, doesn’t mean that everyone will necessarily – look at my last blog for example 😉


  10. David
    23/08/2012 at 6:52 pm Permalink

    The social media comment was mainly related to how a selection of ‘Sabb Tweets’ appear on the homepage for SUSU, so obviously if they’re campaigning one way or another, it would be unfair to the opposition if a campaigning tweet appeared on the feed.

    Just out of curiosity too, who would be Returning Officer for the referendum, or is there no such role as its not an election?

    I know its slightly off topic..but the whole idea about Sabbs and twitter, I don’t know what you think, as VP Comms, but I think it would be a good idea if each Sabb had a ‘Sabb Twitter page’ like @VPComms or something, then it can just be passed on at end of year to next electee, and would allow for you guys to differentiate personal views from SUSU views. Just an idea anyhow!


  11. David
    Oli B
    24/08/2012 at 12:51 am Permalink

    Just a quick reply with regards to the last point, but I’d worry that if there was a generic and official twitter account per sabbatical, it might work to isolate them to an extent – they become a title rather than a person and the accounts would become strictly “business”.

    There’s something nice about knowing that they’re human, just like us, listen to amazing music such as Call Me Maybe and have terribly exciting lives, both in and out of SUSU. It makes them far more approachable (which they might debate as being a bad thing!) and “friendly” 🙂

    Just my opinion, of course, but I’ve enjoyed following them as I would any other person on Twitter, both for SUSU and non-SUSU tweets!

  12. David
    24/08/2012 at 9:07 am Permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Oli(s)

    I personally agree about the twitter feed on the SUSU Website – perhaps it would be fair to say that the whole website should be an impartial space, as that’s where people will be coming to see their fact sheets n such.

    Even though it’s not an election… yes, we’ll still have a returning officer – they will be external in a similar way to how we had an external officer for the last set of Sabbatical and Trustee Elections – and they shall be chosen by the impartial sub-group of elections committee.

    There would definitely be benefits of creating accounts for positions:

    – easier to find
    – followers don’t reset each year
    – differentiate between personal and work for times like these

    But, as Oli mentioned, it does push the Sabbaticals to becoming just a position and not a whole person that is approachable. I’m not sure on the matter to be honest, would be happy to discuss it further.

    Thanks, guys.

  13. David
    Oli B
    23/08/2012 at 3:44 pm Permalink

    (This is getting confusing with two different Oli’s commenting, so I’ll rename myself to Oli B!)

    I think it’s very important to try to make this referendum as fair as possible. I think that, just as with elections, people shouldn’t be able to make use of resources, communication channels, media and similar which are not open to everyone. Similarly, this should apply with regards to information as well – that both campaigns should have access to the same information with regards to the impact of the NUS on our union so that they can have an informed and fair debate the benefits and disadvantages.

    I think the role and the influence of the sabbaticals cannot be denied (the fact that David posed this question only highlights it). As the other Oli said, they are in a fair more connected position, one to which people look up to. I think the best thing is to do (as has been done) is to open this up for discussion: Is it possible that the sabbaticals will significantly sway the vote?

  14. David
    23/08/2012 at 4:35 pm Permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Oli (B).

    With regards to access to information – both campaign teams will access to the information from the Trustee Board sub-group equally – therefore any Sabbs who are campaigning will only see it when all campaign teams see it.

    It’s interesting that you see this as an election, rather than a motion or policy submission. See this like a policy vote at Union Council – the Sabbaticals are able to speak for or against it and they do often sway the vote. Should Sabbaticals not be able to give their opinion on motions at council? Alternatively, do you think that a referendum isn’t like a vote on a motion?

    It’d be interesting to see your thoughts on those questions.

  15. David
    23/08/2012 at 6:23 pm Permalink

    I think it’s really great that this issue was taken to a referendum and in think it’s an area that a lot of people are interested in. I often hear people saying “why can’t we get NUS cards?!” However I think it is fair to say that the NUS is so much more then NUS extra cards and I am glad that a trustee board sub group and an elections committee working group have been set up. Will it be possible for students to be involved in these? I also have absolute faith that SUSU will ensure that this is as fair as possible.

    On the issues of sabbatical and campaigning, I personally feel that the sabbaticals shouldn’t be allowed to be part of the campaigning at all.
    As figureheads of the union, the sabbs have a lot of influence over the student body. They also have a lot of extra resources that I think would give the campaign team they are part of an unfair advantage.

    To the average student, I think if they saw that the president of the union for example, was for the NUS, then they could see it as an endorsement and vote for just because of who was on the campaign team not because of the actual reasons for. For me personally I spent a lot of last year going, “well the sabbs said it so it must be right”.

    If there was an equal amount of sabbs on both the campaign teams, then I think it would be ok because the advantages would be ruled out. However I don’t think this is going to be the case and I think that one of the teams will be left with a huge disadvantage.

    Yes, I think that the sabbs should declare that they have a certain view point but I don’t think that they should voice that any further.

    When I was thinking about this before, I also came up with the question, should it just be sabbs that this applies to or should it go further down. To which I haven’t yet come to a conclusion on what I think.

    In my opinion sabbs were elected to represent the views of students, not their own. I think you cant separate the two, its not like when they leave the office people are not going to see you and still be like “ah look there’s sabb xx”. Therefore on issues like this they should remain neutral in my opinion.

    When they speak for or against a motion at union council, they do it in their roles surely? I would say a referendum is not like something at union council. You may say it is, and technically maybe it should be but in reality it isn’t. This is cross campus, not amongst 80 elected representatives.

    Were any of the sabbs at the time involved in the referendum last time round?

  16. David
    23/08/2012 at 7:23 pm Permalink

    Hey Jade,

    As both are sub-groups of those committees, there will be a chance for Union Councillors appointed to elections committee to get involved if they are impartial.

    On the topic of sabbaticals campaigning, isn’t it true that the Sabbaticals have been elected to represent students and help improve the Union – what if they feel that the decision of this referendum will (either way) affect our students? Don’t they have the responsibility to inform their students about it?

    It might be true that people listen to the Sabbaticals because they are respected (we are pretty awesome, aint we =P), but is the solution to this to silence the Sabbaticals, or is it to change the culture of accepting what the Sabbaticals say without question? Isn’t adopting the former just hiding the problem?

    I would agree… when Sabbaticals speak at Union council during a policy debate, they haven’t stepped down from their position. Why does the size matter from what it is intrinsically? A referendum is not an election, it is a vote on a policy. I think I agree with you that people do see it as an election, whether it is or isn’t – but if we accept that and buy into that way of seeing a referendum, then surely we are propagating that blur in our democratic system?

    I’m not sure, but I believe one of the Sabbaticals at the time publicly said that they were against the affiliation.

    Thanks for the comment, Jade

  17. David
    23/08/2012 at 7:33 pm Permalink

    fyi rob and charlene were for, teddy and char i believe were against, emily and billy neutral. think that how it went down

  18. David
    23/08/2012 at 7:36 pm Permalink

    Ah my inexperience shows 🙂 Thanks for clearing that up, Sasha… quite a nice split.

  19. David
    23/08/2012 at 7:32 pm Permalink

    Sabbs were involved on both sides last time.

    I’d say that a referendum is about creating policy, and that we would not be doing our jobs properly if we didn’t come to a considered opinion of what would be in the best interest of our members given the experiences we are able to have as officers.

    I think care would need to be taken to ensure that we were using any additional resources that would give an unfair advantage, such as access to any research which is not openly available, but that could and should be easily controlled.

    Given the open nature of the referendum, a single voting period, and then campaigning/activity in the term leading up, it would not be practice to have officers taking time off to express there opinions, however the ballance would be that I don’t think officers should spend hours & hours of work time canvassing and campaigning in that way.

  20. David
    24/08/2012 at 6:37 pm Permalink

    the main thing about all this will be whether susu can afford to join… sabbs are really the only ones who will know that surely, so if they cant campaign, its like the same referendum we had last time which wasnt based on any facts…

  21. David
    24/08/2012 at 7:21 pm Permalink

    When this motion was passed at the AGM, Trustee Board were actioned to create an impartial statistics sheet about the impact of affiliation to SUSU financially and as an organisation. From this we will be able to inform more students and, perhaps more importantly, the campaign teams some fundamental facts about the possibility of NUS affiliation so that the debate can be a lot more informed then it was last time.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Joe.

  22. David
    23/08/2012 at 8:37 pm Permalink

    the problem is sabbs influence jcr and the like and people wanting to become future sabbs and these people feel that agreeing with the sabbs gives themselves a better chance of becoming a future sabb. So if a sabb votes campaigns for yes or no, this will sway student leaders under their reign just because they feel it is the right thing to do to further there future position within the union and will use their position to influence others, including freshers who won’t know the difference between NUS and NOC, thereby giving sabbs opinions a far greater importance then the average student.

  23. David
    24/08/2012 at 12:42 am Permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Carly. A fascinating progression from voluntary positions to Sabbatical that you might be very well right about…

    However, do you think that the best way to solve this in situations like these is to, as you suggest, silence the voice of the Sabbatical, so that students are unable to take the natural approach and agree with the Sabbs; or would it be better to remove a culture where some students feel that they have to agree with their Sabbaticals to try and enhance their own political careers?

    I personally think that if the situation you propose is true, then it’s a very damaging one for the furthering of democracy at SUSU. I believe the former, of the two options above, merely covers up the true issue; where as the latter, although more difficult to achieve, would solve it.

    It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on that. Thanks again

  24. David
    24/08/2012 at 12:51 am Permalink

    so if david said to jump off a cliff because it was a really good idea?…

  25. David
    24/08/2012 at 7:44 am Permalink

    haha exactly! Although hopefully I won’t have to resort to that in the next 10 months…

  26. David
    Jonny Vaughan
    26/08/2012 at 2:47 pm Permalink

    Granted the latter is a more favourable outcome, but it strikes me as a long-term aim, one that is unlikely to see favourable results in time for the referendum.

  27. David
    26/08/2012 at 5:10 pm Permalink

    Mmm… perhaps you are right, Jonny.

    Still in my mind, if we don’t use opportunities like these to develop that culture of deliberation, debate and accountability, then we’ll never tackle the issue. Maybe some compromise would be best – so campaigning from Sabbs is encouraged, but only in places where questioning is possible and also encouraged?

    Cheers for the comment, Jonny.

  28. David
    Jonny Vaughan
    26/08/2012 at 7:45 pm Permalink

    Yes, I agree that a combination of the two is the best way to tackle this issue.
    You’re right that it’s worth taking this chance to put a plan into motion that prevents the problem possibly arising in the future.
    Of course what you’re proposing is a change in culture at SUSU which has a timeframe that nobody can predict; putting temporary measures in place in the mean time, like a limit on when and where Sabbs can ‘campaign’, will limit the chances of influence being abused or misinterpreted.

  29. David
    27/08/2012 at 7:08 am Permalink

    I’d be keen to get a better idea of what would be considered an abuse of influence/position?

    To me I think In this situation Sabbaticals should not use resource that other students wouldnt have access to (twitter feed on website, SUSU blog), however I do think it’s important that we engage in the debate, as we would with any other policy discussion or motion.

    From my experience student leaders and students in general are far more likely to challenge Sabbaticals views than has been suggested in this thread. You only have to look over at the thread on the elections timetable to see that is the case.

    I think we often underestimate the intelligence, or the capacity for individual thought among our members, and I believe that we should not hide parts of the discussion away from them (or people) because we think they will make a decision badly.

    However, I also think that given the amount of other work we have to get done in other areas we shouldn’t see Sanbaticals spending weeks solidly campaigning in person. Which is more about time management and ensuring a reasonable balance of workload.

  30. David
    24/08/2012 at 10:49 am Permalink

    Apologies if it’s already been said (the string was rather too long to read all of it) but I personally have no problem and in fact expect Sabatical officers to have opinions. The difference here is that this is a referendum of the student body in a student led organisation. So whilst if asked I would expect sabbatical officers to give their opinion and reasons for it, I do not expect to see them taking time away from their work to actively campaign for or against the NUS motion. Instead the debate should be primarily student led. The extension of this is that whilst I would not expect Sabbs to be using their SUSU blogs etc to be giving making statements about it (unless merely stating impartial facts that there is a referendum) I would have no problem whatsoever with them appearing on SUSU media (WS, Surge, SUSUtv) and other student media (Soton Tab, etc.) if invited. How on earth can we hold the people we elected to account if we have no access to their opinions and thinking, and how can they support us if we can’t even get opinions from them on the issues that matter to us, the student?

  31. David
    24/08/2012 at 11:42 am Permalink

    No of course, that’s fine, Thomas. We don’t expect that people have read through all the comments – and your’s seems to be unique 🙂

    Do you think that Sabbaticals should be able to campaign if they take time off work (as in officially, out of their holiday)?

    Just to hear your opinion – if this was a motion about whether we should boycott Nestlé, as was asked to all students 1 year ago, would you say that Sabbaticals shouldn’t have been able to campaign about it?

    Thanks for the comment.

  32. David
    David Mendoza-Wolfson
    28/08/2012 at 3:27 am Permalink

    I read the first few comments and then the last one there but there amount it goes on did make me a bit giddy.

    Firstly, I think that it’s wrong that we’re having another referendum this year, but there’s nothing that I can do about that!

    On the issue of Sabbatical campaigning I say that they absolutely should not be allowed to use their blogs or any official SUSU media to advocate their view on the issue. Moreover, I do not think they should be allowed to state any facts on the NUS on their blogs even if these are ‘impartial’ and this is because statistics etc are almost always loaded. As it has been said, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

  33. David
    28/08/2012 at 8:36 am Permalink

    Hey David, cheers for the comment and your thoughts.

    When you say official SUSU Media – does this mean that they couldn’t be interviewed on… Surge Radio for example, or take place in a debate on SUSUtv?

    I thoroughly agree with your final point. Putting facts on the blog of an impartial Sabbatical is just asking for trouble – it devalues the statistics and therefore reduces the debate to nothing more than unjustified opinion and guesswork – we have no plan to do it and shall be using a separate area of the website to inform our students about affiliating to the NUS, as was asked of Trustee Board, within the AGM motion.

    Cheers, David

  34. David
    29/08/2012 at 3:14 pm Permalink

    As a student who does not really know about the NUS etc and (I know this isn’t something to be proud of) who isn’t not planning to find out in the near future, I’d say the sabbs opinions on the NUS have massively coloured my own, completely uninformed opinions – for some reason I subconsciously see the NUS as something undesireable even though I know nothing about it. So that just goes to show how much influence sabbs opinions can have.

    In general, though, I agree with sabbs being restricted on voicing their opinions and only doing so in situations where these can be questioned, as David mentions in response to Johnny Vaughan.

  35. David
    29/08/2012 at 4:23 pm Permalink

    Afternoon, Iliana, and thanks for commenting on the Sabb Blog 🙂

    To play devil’s advocate… Would you say that the influence is necessarily a bad thing? I had a similar experience when the referendum occurred in 2010, however I wasn’t influenced by the Sabbaticals at the time, but just by a friend who was campaigning. I didn’t see this as a problem – they helped me form an opinion because I trusted their judgement on an issue that I knew very little about. I questioned some of their justifications, but when it came down to it, I didn’t have time / effort to question everything that they told me. However, thanks to their influence, I was able to vote.

    I don’t think we should see the Sabbaticals as inhumane beings who we shouldn’t question (although it would be fun =P), but at the same time, I don’t think we should be ashamed to be influenced by them. If you trust someone’s opinion, you trust it – regardless of their job role.

    Thanks again, Iliana.

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