As it was prophesied in the first hood column of this year, there will indeed be a referendum this semester. Even in spite of my abilities, which are beyond the ken of mortal men, I could not have predicted the second referendum, which will also occur on Monday, and could override the first one,if enough votes can be garnered.
The first one, as proposed by poppygate instigator Seán Fearon is that the Union should overtly support a United Ireland. The second referendum, as proposed by UUP mouthpiece Cathy Corbett says that the union should take no stance on the issue, but instead focus on more important things, like shoving metaphorical pencils up its nose, as per usual.
The reason that there are two referenda seems to be a flaw with the nature of the referendum. As numerous websites have shamelessly copypasted from this website, any referendum with less than 10% of the student body in attendance is viewed as merely ‘recommendatory’ and therefore gets filed in the round filing cabinet, however any over 10% is viewed as a mandate.
Therefore,campaigning against the referendum adds to the turnout, and can push an undesirable motion closer to the quorum.
As we saw with the last referendum, in many ways it is safer to simply erect a sign saying ‘Don’t feed the democracy’ and leave student apathy to body check it into the ground.
Both campaigns are being slightly disingenuous. On the one hand, Fearon & co are trying to make it seem like this is just a wee opinion poll which the union are hosting for them, conveniently ignoring the fact that it would mandate our NUS-USI reps to be whipped on the issue, which always chafes,especially when it’s on divisive issues such as this one.
It’d also means that union resources could be diverted to finance/enable any campaign on that issue. On the other hand, the neutral campaign are making it sound like prodageddon, and insisting that the Unionists might flee overseas, and that there is a real danger of the Campaigns officer taking time to fight for a United Ireland, which is horse apples given that there hasn’t been an actual campaign led by the VP for campaigns for several years.
Both sides are also claiming that they’ve invigorated debate, which is rather like the Luftwaffe saying that they’d eliminated urban overcrowding: technically true but clearly neither the aim of the exercise nor its most pertinent result.
The disconnect between the two referenda is the reason that the debate on Wednesday (as hosted by The Gown and The Scoop) seemed to be happening in two different rooms, and in two different languages. Essentially they were debating two different things.
Sean Fearon (Sinn Féin mouthpiece)and Shannon Downey (SDLP Mouthpiece) squared off against Cathy Corbett (UUP mouthpiece) and Julia Andrade Rocha (no party), and from the get-go it spun around but essentially stayed in place. Sean would posit some glorious manifest destiny for a United Ireland with glazed eye and slightly open mouth,one of the neutrals would say that the SU shouldn’t have any stance, Sean would respond that the neutrals were trying to stifle debate, neutral would cry “Weren’t”; rinse and repeat, all to the occasional accompaniment of a few smatterings of militarised applause by both sides.
Shannon had the sympathy of my charcoal heart for the debate. She had to act as the voice of the Young Stoops, whose former Youth Wing head recently declared it to be a ‘sectarian headcount’, but who was whipped by the party to support the referendum, to make their party seem more relevant and flex their atrophied nationalist credentials.
Given that the shallow, tokenistic nature of the debate coincides with increased partisan involvement in SU politics, this could be a grim warning for things to come, where the SU slides away from traditional Law vs CU vs RAG politics and into the more nefariously stodgy Stormont model.
The fact that one of the neutral campaigners tried to block the Shinner referendum ‘in the dark’ before trying to fight it is perhaps further proof of the way of things to be. Still, never mind. I’m sure the debate on the issue co-authored by Sinn Fein and the SDLP will no doubt be an unbiased and realistic discussion, with valid points raised by both sides of the political divide.
In light of this, I encourage my readers to vote YES to both campaigns, so as to create a hilarious Catch 22 and thereby give the officers something to lose sleep over. It’d also mean that the Partymouthpieces would remain tied up trying to decide who won, and that’d keep them off the streets,which can only be a good thing.
Of course, such referenda cast long shadows and looking at this year’s council line-up, I think that we won’t have heard the last of this business. Although the staff and officers devoutly wished this would be a brief flare up, it seems that #SUdecides is anything but painless