Freedom of Speech, Solidarity and Democracy: Our Petition Against NUS

‘No to NUS Nottingham’ is proposing that we as students of the University of Nottingham should be able to have our say in a referendum on our membership of the National Union of Students (NUS) in light of recent developments.

We want to engage with as many students as possible regardless of their position on our membership with the NUS, so that we are able to have a healthy debate as to whether the NUS still represents us effectively. Although the motion we have submitted only advocates that there should be a referendum in which students are able to express their opinions, the following reasons elucidate our motivations for wanting to have this referendum.

Freedom of speech:

We are privileged enough to be studying at a research intensive institution with a global reputation for academic success. As such, we believe that the national union that represents us as students, needs to be prioritising values that are contributory to this continued success.

Over the years we feel as though the NUS, with initiatives such as ‘no-platforming’ and ‘safe space’ policies, has stopped prioritising the freedom of speech that allows us as students to challenge ideas that we fundamentally disagree with and in doing so developing intellectually.

“The policy essentially embodies banning anybody with whom a small minority of students disagrees”

There are of course organisations that deserve to be banned from speaking and the British National Party (BNP), as an organisation on the NUS blacklist, is a good example. However, we believe the NUS is fostering an increasingly extreme culture of ‘no-platforming’ which is permeating across campuses nationwide. Whilst certain organisations such as the BNP deserve to be blacklisted, the policy essentially embodies banning anybody with whom a small minority of students disagrees.

The Chief Executive of Hope not Hate Nick Lowles, for example was recently banned from speaking at an NUS event, ironically amid accusations he was ‘Islamophobic’, despite all the work he has personally undertaken to challenge racial prejudice as a member of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.

This decision was neither rational nor logical, and is indicative of the NUS’ increasingly radical trajectory. Our own Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Greenaway, in an interview with The Times discussed the way in which this sort of irrationality promoted by a “small but vocal minority” is seeking to “narrow the boundaries” of the acceptable debate – an entirely unhealthy and unjustifiable development.


Anti-Semitism is a growing and worrying problem we face today, both in the UK as a whole and on our university campuses. Many of you will be aware of the allegations facing Malia Bouattia, the new NUS president, of anti-Semitism. For those of you who aren’t, these allegations stem from her long history of indulging in anti-Semitic rhetoric and behaviour, such as identifying the University of Birmingham as being a “Zionist outpost”, supporting violent resistance against Israel – which she sees as a “colonial project”, whilst also claiming that Western news organisations are “mainstream Zionist led media outlets”.

The heads of 45+ Jewish student societies and hundreds of supporters wrote a letter to Malia asking her to address their concerns, yet her response failed to explain why she consistently used anti-Semitic tropes. When contacted for a comment, a JSoc committee member gave the following response: “Bouattia is yet to adequately address the concerns of the Nottingham JSoc”.

“How are Jewish students supposed to feel welcome at NUS affiliated events?”

As a university that has been plagued with anti-Semitic material posted on campus by the neo-Nazi group National Action, we know how serious a problem anti-Semitism is for our students. How are Jewish students supposed to feel welcome at NUS affiliated events for instance, if it is headed by somebody who holds these radical beliefs and whose behaviour legitimises the actions of neo-Nazis?

Discrimination in the NUS is not just occurring on the basis of faith, but of sexuality as well. Earlier this year the NUS LGBT+ conference passed a motion encouraging LGBT societies to remove gay men’s representatives on the basis that they don’t face oppression. It is difficult to see how the NUS can claim gay men don’t face oppression when they are disproportionately at risk of suffering abuse and violence.


The democratic deficit within the NUS has become a recurring feature of many people’s anger towards the organisation. Many of you will share the same sentiments if you happen to be one of very few people who have a decent idea of how the NUS works.

However, the fact that so many have absolutely no idea how the institution works is not only disappointing, but completely unacceptable and the NUS has a responsibility to rectify this.

Another big problem with the NUS was recently shown in the election of new NUS President, Malia Bouattia. The NUS holds membership to around 600 student unions, accounting for more than 95% of higher and further education unions across the country, with the NUS website claiming that this accounts to around 7 million student voices. Yet the franchise for the NUS presidency does not amount to such a number, despite numerous calls for a change to a one member, one vote (OMOV) system. This certainly isn’t democratic, and this certainly isn’t fair on the student population.

“The only way we fail to improve our relationship with the NUS is by failing to talk about it”

Who knows, by having this referendum here at Nottingham, in conjunction with the many universities already discussing their own membership in the form of referenda, the NUS could actually start listening to the concerns of ordinary students.

An added advantage in the case of disaffiliation, could be the emergence of a second national body representing students. In mirroring public sector union competition between the GMB and Unite for example, the NUS would be incentivised to do useful things such as engage with the government to prevent further tuition fee rises, as opposed to focusing on foreign policy decisions, which is hardly the most pressing issue for students. The only way we fail to improve our relationship with the NUS is by failing to talk about it.

So if you want UoN students to have their say in future membership of the NUS, please sign this petition:

Thomas Burke of the University of Nottingham Labour Society, Callum Southern of Nottingham Liberal Youth, and Blake Purchase of Nottingham University Conservative Association

Image: with permission from NUSceptics

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One Comment
  • Vivian G.
    10 May 2016 at 18:41
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    Though I consider the NUS as terribly regressive, Malia Bouattia’s criticism is undue. She is not an anti-Semite, she is anti-zionist, and this is clearly a distinction that many ignore.

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