The NUS-USI Referendum is being held at Queen’s today, asking the general student population if they wish for QUBSU to reaffirm membership with the National Union of Students, Union of Students, Ireland. This is a tri-lateral Union agreement, set up in 1972 to benefit students from both sides of the religious divide. The cost of affiliation to QUBSU is in the region of £50,000.
But do students in 2016 really care about the referendum, or NUS-USI?
The lead up to the referendum has been unusually quiet this time around, but perhaps this is reflective of student apathy which is at an all-time high. It’s no secret that the level at which students are turning out to vote in Student Officer elections has been on the decrease over the past number of years, and indeed numerous referendums have failed to reach the quorum (the minimum number of votes needed to be cast for an election to be deemed valid) set at 10% of QUB student body.
Ulster University held their NUS-USI referendum at the beginning of November 2015. With a population of over 26,000 students attending UU, less than 650 students voted in the referendum.
Reaching quorum was set at 1% of the UU student population. They reached 2% overall.
The previous NUS-USI referendum held in April 2012 at QUB, was just short of 5% turnout overall, with 744 students voting in favour of remaining affiliated, and 341 voting to disaffiliate (68.57% Yes, to 31.43% No). SU celebrations were cut short, when the Vote-No camp submitted a referendum petition to the Director of the Student’s Union. During the day of the NUS-USI referendum, QUBSU sent out an all-student email urging students to vote yes to affiliation, but denied the No-campaign the right to send out a counter-email to the student population.
The then Director Gordon Douglas decided that they had a valid case, and that it would be forwarded to a QUB referendum court. The court ruled that Vote-No Camp had been discriminated against and promptly deemed the referendum nulled void. With the result overturned to late at the end of the academic year, the referendum was rerun at the start of the autumn semester in October 2012. The second rerun of the election seen more campaigners take to the Union Steps with placards and leaflets, battling to get every last student’s vote. The re-run of the referendum seen a record turnout, with nearly twice as many votes cast as first time around. In the end the yes campaign won, but the gap between the results was a lot narrower (64.9% Yes, to 35.1% No)
QUB were due to vote on this referendum at the beginning of the first semester. Due to the number of elections for both Student Council, and Part-Time Officers and also a referendum in relation to Divestment from Fossil Fuels, QUBSU were granted permission to push this back until second semester.
In comparison to the previous referendum, the build up has been non-existent, with barely a murmur coming from either side. At the time of writing on the Eve of the referendum, the official NUS-USI event page for the campaign has attracted less than 30 people to attend the event, yet not even a whisper coming from the No campaign. Compare this to the last referendum, when both camps lobbied hard to attract voters to share their views, both through social media & occupying the steps of the Union on the day of the election.
With student apathy on the rise, and a £50,000 affiliation cost of the NUS-USI connection, the question remains; Does the average QUB student care enough to vote ‘yes’?