The National Union of Students have announced that their next national demonstration will be held in London on Wednesday 21 November 2012, following the overwhelming vote in favour of the protest at April’s national conference.
Speaking during an online Q&A session recently, recently re-elected union president Liam Burns set out what he believed was the purpose of the demonstration, and branded some activists’ continuing focus on fees and cuts “unambitious and tired”.
Mr Burns told The Journal: “This demo is about three things. One, it’s a place marker for the general elections in 2015. We need to build momentum around demands to stop neglecting our generation in jobs, education and wider opportunities. Two, we know that thousands of students stayed involved in their students' union off the back of the demo in 2010. These are going to be the leaders of our movement in 2015 and it’s right we get them to start shaping that now.
“Finally, we're working hard to make sure we have an answer to "what next" come
December so that unions can carry on campaigning on a local level around creating a very
different type of education and labour market in the future.”
Mr Burns rejected efforts by the Student Broad Left faction within NUS to build the demonstration atop an anti-cuts, fees and debt platform, saying: “I think it has to be a wider
message that encapsulates both education and employment, a betrayal of a generation... I
think your message although right is unambitious and tired.”
Edinburgh University Students’ Association president James McAsh, who was elected on an anti-cuts platform, joined the SBL’s call for an anti-cuts message, saying: "In April, EUSA and other unions demanded that NUS call a national demo against fees, cuts and privatisation. Students deserve a better deal than we are currently getting, I hope that on November 21st we can articulate a positive vision for democratic education, funded by progressive taxation.”
Some student leaders outside the activist left have also expressed doubts over the demonstration plans. Mike Ross, president of Heriot-Watt Students’ Union, was hesitant in his assessment, calling the current plan “only a small step forward” and calling for clarity on the demonstration’s message.
Mr Ross also expressed concern over the mid-week timing of the demo, saying: “Whatever day you choose there will always be issues, [but] having it on a Wednesday will cause great difficulties for non-traditional students, especially those with part-time work and families. It does however avoid a big clash with academic studies for those in universities.
“My biggest concern for Scottish Unions at this point in time is how colleges will be able to engage with this date, and taking this a step further, how we will engage and involve the public with this date.”
Responding to these worries, NUS Scotland president Robin Parker said that while a mid-week demonstration was not perfect timing, holding it on a day when parliamentary business was scheduled would increase the impact and effectiveness of the action.
Mr Burns refused to be drawn on speculation about the route the march will follow.