Report from July’s NUS National Exec Meeting – Omar Raii

nuslogoThis is Omar Raii’s report from the 18 July meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the National Union of Students (NUS). Omar is an NCAFC activist elected to the NEC and this report is his view of the meeting.

Please see here for the motions that were discussed

The first NUS National Executive Council meeting of the 2016/17 cycle started off as tedious as any other student union induction. It would have been easy to think the day would end like this too, but this was not to be.

Apart from meeting fellow members of the NEC, which was useful, most of the first half of the day was spent on giving us an overview of our roles and of the NUS as an organisation. We also had a discussion on the culture inside NUS and specifically within the NEC and various members gave their views about how we can make the NEC relevant and useful while also remaining courteous to one another. I for one have always been in support of healthy and even heated debate inside organisations like the NUS and so long as it is coupled with personal civility, I believe only good things can come of this. It was agreed that NEC members should seek to actively discuss issues with as many students as they could in order for the NEC to be a genuine representative of NUS’s membership, and that a culture of being polite to fellow members ought to be established.

Various “rules” were also explained as part of the induction, including the now somewhat infamous no-platform list. NEC members were reminded that they are forbidden from, knowingly at least, sharing platforms with members of organisations on the list (the list can be found here) for fear of censure.

Next came the accountability session, which was mostly a bit of a mess. Due to pressures on time, FTOs were given only 1 minute to speak and as things went on, even times for questions were limited. Many NEC members agreed that something needs to be done to allow for the accountability session to be more useful as I certainly came to the view that if we’re going to hold the FTOs to account, we should either do it properly or not at all. One minute for each FTO is of virtually no use.

Then came the motions.

The main problem of the day was that only one hour was scheduled for a motions debate and due to various technical difficulties and all manner of faffing about, even this limited amount of time ended up being shrunk to half an hour, giving us time to debate only two motions.

The first motion, regarding NUS support for the Bergen declaration which involved working with international student organisations, passed unanimously with no controversy while the second motion involved lengthy wrangling on the voting procedure alone.

After a rather complex explanation it was decided that Motion 2, on the composition of the Anti-Racism Anti Fascism committee, would be debated with the two amendments that had been submitted and as the amendments were seen to be contradictory, if 2a were to have passed then it would have become the main motion and if 2b were to have passed then this would have replaced 2a as the overall motion. This was put to a vote (on which I abstained as I didn’t see this option as very good but didn’t see any alternative option that would have been more satisfactory).

I went into the meeting thinking that I would vote for the Motion but I was unsure about the amendments. During various points throughout the day I wavered between abstention, voting for and voting against. I wanted to vote for the motion, which was to repeal a motion passed months ago that changed the convenors of the ARAF committee because while I agree that the ARAF committee should be more democratic, and that the old custom of the convenors simply being chosen by the whims of the President was bad, I did think that it was reckless to simply get rid of the representative from the Union of Jewish Students and to do so in a way that removed the only guaranteed Jewish representation in any NUS structure. None of the options were perfect, but I thought a new structure being discussed by the Black Students’ Officer and a representative from UJS would be the least worst option.

I abstained on amendment 2a because though it resolved to have the ARAF committee convened by the Black Students Officer and a representative from UJS, the amendment made it a final decision and not a provisional one, which the original motion did. This motion in the end passed narrowly and thus replaced the main motion.

Strangely however, the following amendment also passed although in a more bitter and divisive debate which included a recount, with passionate speeches against being made by Izzy Lenga from the Block of 15 and FTOs Robbie Young and Vonnie Sandlan.

While there were merits to amendment 2b that made me consider voting for it, in the end I had to vote against it. Though I respect the spirit of a committee that is elected rather than appointed, in the end I was failed to be convinced that random members of the NEC who happened to be Muslim or Jewish or migrant students (and who were not elected as Jews or Muslims or migrants) were in any way more democratic than the representatives of the Black Students Campaign and UJS (which, despite its democratic deficiencies is still in a general sense democratic and representative of Jewish students across the UK). I was also uncomfortable with some of the problems that amendment 2b would have brought in such as the conflation of religious and ethnic identities (could I for example be the Muslim representative on the committee, despite not believing in God?) and the somewhat tokenistic manner in which some of the places were afforded (again if I, as an Afghan migrant, were elected as the migrant representative, could I in any way be said to be representative of international students from Eastern Europe who are at the forefront of post-Brexit anti-migrant hysteria? Especially given that I was never elected onto the NEC as a migrant). And finally the most obvious problem with amendment 2b was that it assumed that there would necessarily be Jewish, Muslim, migrant etc. representatives already elected onto the NEC. Though I initially voted to abstain, I voted against in the recount as I concluded that abstaining on important and divisive issues is both a) generally a bad way to approach motions and b) I wasn’t elected onto the NEC to abstain when it came to divisive motions.

After one final debate on the motion as a whole, the motion passed but only with the deciding motion of the Chair/President (I also voted against in this vote, which was essentially a revote on amendment 2b) meaning that 2b was effectively the only part of the three things discussed that passed.

That culture of civility clearly didn’t last very long as the meeting ended with quite an acrimonious atmosphere.

It’s clear that time needs to be managed more effectively and I would be in favour of a minimum of two hours of debating time being set aside for every meeting and for a proper accountability session to be held giving FTOs more than a couple of minutes each to speak and respond.

It has to said that the Chair could have done more in advance and in the meeting to clear things up about procedure. Major disagreements are always going to lead to heated division and a lot of emotion but these things are always made ten times worse if people are unclear of what exactly is going on in terms of procedures.

The next meeting of the NEC will in in mid-September where I will hope to rectify the mistakes I made this time (such as not properly hashing out disagreements about the motions with fellow NCAFC members well in advance, including perhaps sending in our own amendments). We can only wait and see if the next meeting will end as acrimoniously as the last one.

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