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Vonnie's closing remarks from NUS Scotland Conference 2016

Saturday 19-03-2016 - 15:06
Vonnie elections speech

Closing NUS Scotland Conference, NUS Scotland President Vonnie Sandlan, said:

Conference, we’ve made history. I cannot remember the last time that an NUS event ran ahead of time. 

I won’t keep you long, There’s just a few quick thanks I want to make. 

First of all, I think we need to thank the venue staff. We’ve basically taken over the hotel for the past two days, but they’ve kept everything together, and even managed to transform a conference floor into a meal and dance floor within an hour. Without them there would literally be no conference, so we owe them a huge thanks.

I know at the start I made a big deal about not talking about NUS staff, BUT as conference is now effectively over I’m allowed to say a few words. There’s a huge amount of work goes into pulling this conference together, sometimes right up until 10 minutes before we get started. And all of that’s on top of the day to day activities we have. Which, with an election in less than 8 weeks, there’s a lot of other work. 

And finally, a big thanks to you, delegates, especially all those of you who are first time delegates. 

Conference is always described as NUS Scotland’s main democratic event. But, to me, I think it’s also one of our most inspiring events. We come together to debate how we create the kind of future we want to see, and the changes they want us to make. 

I’m always proud of how welcoming this conference is. We might not agree on absolutely everything, but we’ve disagreed politely, and we’ve kept our differences to the conference floor. And actually, I think we’ve come away with some incredibly ambitious, but achievable, goals, and set policy, that sends a clear message on what the student movement stands for, and just how powerful that movement is. 

And these aren’t just empty words, or meaningless debates. These are our vision, and our direction. We say it a lot, but that’s because we must not forget, the student movement is a huge driver of change. Historically, we’ve fought apartheid, we’ve stood with striking workers, and we’ve fought against austerity and cuts.

And this year, we, the people in this room, have secured incredible wins. We called for a commission on widening access, and you know what? The government listened. We started talking about Learning and Liberation, and the government listened. And years ago, when we were saying that Scotland must reject the notion of charging students tuition fees, and the government listened, and we've kept it off the table since.

These things don’t come about by chance, they come about because of people like you, in this room, campaigning on your campuses, and lobbying your politicians.

But we’ve only just begun. Free education has to be about more than just the price tag. In our further education system, we’ve got students facing an underfunded, discretionary, postcode lottery system, where you have no guarantee of how much support you’ll be getting, or if you get any at all, until you arrive on campus. That is simply shameful. 

Higher Education students face a broken system, being forced to take on unnecessary debt to get a degree, and being left hung out to dry in the summer. That’s a disgrace.

And, as we’ve heard all to often this weekend, students with mental ill health, who are some of the most vulnerable people in society, are being let down right across the country. They’re moving to a new place to study, and being forced to the back of the queue to access the support that they’ve already started at home. Or they go to their institution, but get told the counsellor is already booked up, or there isn't a counsellor at alll.

Conference, this is the 21st century, and this is what we’re putting up with.

But, we have a chance to change this. I’ve already said it, but it’s now less than 8 weeks until we elect what is going to be the most powerful government in this country’s history. 16 and 17 year olds are having the chance to vote for the first time. WE cannot miss this chance. For the first time, on April the 11th in Glasgow, NUS Scotland are organising a national hustings where we’re getting party leaders in one room, to give students and apprentices the chance to ask them about the issues that matter to them, make sure you’re there, and bring your students.

On Wednesday, when politicians walk out of parliament and start their campaigning, we’ll be there. I’ll be outside the front door letting them know that the status quo simply cannot go on, and I really hope you’re going to be there with me.

Go back to your campuses, speak to your students, get them on buses, get them on trains, and get them to Edinburgh.

I’ve been inspired by your passion over the past two days, now let’s show politicians just how passionate we are about creating a better Scotland.

See you on Wednesday. 

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