By Sam Tilley
On December 11th, the Student Senate voted on a motion put forward by Julia Rooke, the SU International Officer, that officially endorsed the People’s Vote campaign.
As an organisation that is meant to represent all students and, during General Elections, is nominally politically neutral, why isn’t this the case for Brexit?
It is important to note that this article is not meant to be a dismissal of either a People’s Vote or a no-deal Brexit scenario, instead it will be arguing that our Students’ Union in its brief to “represent all students” is failing that by endorsing a People’s Vote, or at least in the way that this decision was reached.
Yes, under current laws, Student Unions are allowed to officially endorse campaigns that affect “students as students”. Whilst this is undeniably the case when campaigning against tuition fees or other clear-cut ‘student’ issues, Brexit, as has often been the case over the past few years, does not easily fall into any category.
Whilst it is of course of the upmost importance that the rights and status of EU students are upheld, advocating a People’s Vote is both a step too far at a time when divisions in society are more open than any time in our lifetimes and counterproductive
The reaction has understandably been varied. We reached out to all four Cardiff University political societies and Julia Rooke, the International Officer who submitted the original motion, for comment and received replies from Cardiff University Conservatives, the Labour Students Society and Plaid Ifanc Prifysgol Caerdydd.
William Rees, Plaid Ifanc Prifysgol Caerdydd Chair, stated that “Plaid Ifanc are extremely glad to see the SU take a stand and formally support the People’s Vote campaign. Brexit will harm the ability of young people in Wales to work, live, travel and study in Europe”.
Similarly, Hannah McCarthy, the Chair of Labour Student’s Society, told Gair Rhydd that “Many students at the university won’t have had the chance to vote in the initial referendum in 2016 and should now have their voices heard. Leaving the EU will deeply affect our generation for years to come, and so the SU should support us in our fight towards a more secure future.”
Taking a polar opposite approach was Callum Sloper, Chair of Cardiff University Conservative Society, who argued against the role that the Student Senate played by saying “The Student Senate is made up from a tiny fraction of the wider student based and so should have sought to give all students the chance to voice their opinion via a referendum before making such a divisive political statement like this.”
The real danger here is if the Students’ Union will be openly “lobbying” using SU funds, as they did back in September, during a time when the SU is facing a dire financial situation. Comments on the official SU Facebook page are undoubtedly skewed towards anger with commentators describing the move as “outrageous” and drawing comparisons to earlier this year when SU funds were used to transport students down to anti-Brexit protests. This is again a very dangerous precedent to set, especially with budgets across the board being stretched to the absolute limit.
The timing of the announcement has also caused consternation amongst students who have noted that the information was released whilst the majority of students were off on their Winter Break using a democratic body that arguably is not well-publicised within the main student population.
Why, if the SU were always going to back a People’s Vote, then was this decision not open for the student population to vote on via referendum.
There is clear anger at how both the 2016 Referendum and the subsequent negotiations have been carried out and this anger is not unfounded. But, with a mere three months before Britain is legally going to leave the EU, was backing a People’s Vote the most productive way for the SU to guarantee the rights of EU students, and the future of academic schemes? I think not.
The Cardiff University Liberal Democrat Society and Julia Rooke, SU International Officer, were both unable to be reached for comment.