What would be a fairer approach to Liberation in the Nations?

Thursday 13-10-2016 - 16:11

NUS' full time officers are working to bring a proposal to improve our democracy to National Conference 2017, and want our members to bring forward ideas that could help. To start the debate, Richard Brooks, Sorana Vieru and Shakira Martin have set out their ideas, and here NUS Wales LGBT+ officers Hannah Stewart and Jasper Williams ask how we can improve Liberation in the Nations.

We struggle to understand why it is that in Scotland and Wales we still only have a full-time Women’s Officer and all other Liberation Officers’ positions are voluntary[1]. We call these voluntary roles “part-time”, but they aren’t paid. To be honest, as voluntary Liberation Officers trying our best to deliver for the LGBT+ Campaign in Wales with limited resources and even less time, we often ask: surely there’s a fairer way of doing this? I don’t think, with our more recent agendas and increased understanding around cross-Liberation and intersectionality, we can continue to prioritise one Liberation Campaign over another.

There are reasons why the current model occurred. In the history of Liberation, the women’s movement came first. But things have progressed and our representation and resource allocation shouldn’t be based on a first come first served basis. Don’t get us wrong, we still need reserved women’s places to ensure gender equality. And we shouldn’t be pitted against each other where resource and ability to carry out our roles are concerned. We know that even the full-time women’s officers in the Nations are often spread thinly and end up carrying the weight and concerns of all of the campaigns, taking on an informal management of Liberation in the Nations. But we should take the current democratic review as an opportunity to address this long-felt concerns and redress the current imbalance.

Of course, in an ideal world, we would have full-time Liberation Officers across all liberation campaigns everywhere! But we know that our resources are limited and we have to be realistic about what is achievable and practical. And we have to remember that we have UK-wide full-time Liberation Officers across the five UK-wide campaigns already[2], and if more resource became available, it must be a priority to get staff support in the Nations to support our work.

So what would fairer look like? There are probably a few options and it is important for us to consider all of them and come to a mutual agreement as to what would work best. Liberation and NUS is at its strongest when we work together and have a shared vision. So here are some options.

Option 1 – Share the funds available equally across all Liberation Campaigns. Pay all Liberation Officers in the Nations a recognition payment for their work. With the current financial resource available, we maybe paid only one day a week, but there would be some financial recognition for the role that we play in driving Liberation in the Nations. This would be fair to all the campaigns and go some way in acknowledging what we do. However, our time would still be almost as limited as we would almost definitely still be in education and/or working other jobs, with additional commitments. It would definitely be fairer, but would there be a recognisable change in what we could achieve?

Option 2 – We utilise the full-time NUS UK Liberation officers more in the Nations, hold them to account and accept that their role is UK-wide. What would happen to Liberation Officers in the Nations? Well, there would definitely still need to be Liberation representation in the Nations, but we would move to being organisers, rather than officers. We would remain on the National Liberation Committees; we would still shape the Liberation Campaigns, offer the Nations-specific perspective and set policy to guide the UK officer around devolved issues. We’d probably be elected at National Liberation Conferences, as this is a better use of our time and resources, but we could say that Liberation Conferences would need to take place in the Nations and that we would need some commitments to work taking place in the Nations as well as England. But what does that mean for our devolution? What would we do with the money? Would one UK officer be able to cover the work UK wide? How would the Welsh language campaign be supported?

Either way,we need to have an open and honest discussion about redefining the current model of Liberation representation in the Nations. We need to rethink how we can share the resource more equitably across all Liberation campaigns. It certainly would feel less frustrating for us, and a lot more liberating and progressive than the current model does.


[1] NUS USI isn’t technically a “nation” according to the NUS constitution and doesn’t have a full-time Women’s officer despite the challenges they face such as abortion being illegal.

[2] The only support for Welsh Language campaign in Wales is a voluntary officer


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