The Queens University Border Poll – semantics, sectarianism or substance?

As many of you may be aware, the Sinn Féin students at Queens University in Belfast have succeeded in gaining sufficient votes to trigger a “united Ireland Poll” among the student body. This matter seems to have energised parts of the mainstream media to an inordinate degree, particularly the Belfast Telegraph.

Personally I am all for for radical student politics, there is a long, proud tradition of rebellious students being at the forefront of political change and anger at the status quo.

Give me that, rather than the Bullingdon club crowd currently bumbling their way through what is the the current incarnation of British party political ineptitude.

The election in Queens required a 600 vote mandate to go ahead, which, having been gained, now requires a vote of at least 10% of the student body for the result to stand. That means that of a 24,000 student body, at least 2.400 must vote. Voting is available online and a 50% plus 1 majority is sufficient to win.

There is a clear majority of nationalist background students attending Queens. On paper, the vote should be a shoo in. Is this about polarising views, dividing the student body, semantics, sectarianism or substance? What is the purpose?

I met today with Sean Fearon today, who is head of the SF branch in Queens and asked him those very questions.

The most obvious question for me was what the whole thing was designed to achieve. His response was that it was part of an overall movement to create momentum and debate towards an island wide vote in much the same way that the Scottish independence campaign grew organically at a grassroots level.

I asked him was he receiving advice, instructions or help at any level from his party.

He was adamant that he was receiving no material assistance from the party at all. I’ll let readers make up their own minds as to the unsaid part.

We moved onto the dynamics of the campaign. I made the point that the Scottish campaign ultimately revolved around personal economics which impact, for the most part, on the “senior” electoral demographic. Students, on the other hand, tend to be a little more idealistic. Ahem.

I wanted to know if there was a strategic economic plan, preferably backed up by independent respected economic opinion. Sean responded by referring to Dr Conor Patterson and Michael Burke who both spoke at a recent debate on the subject but I was unconvinced by his grasp of the importance of the subject.

With the vote taking place on the 28th of October, I asked what the campaign would involve.

Apparently there will be debates with the other student party groups within the university.

This may be a major problem.

The Unionist party organisations in the student body are currently trying to launch a counter referendum. The SDLP organisation in Queens views the referendum as “divisive and sectarian”.

I put that point to Sean. “Is this not a polarising and divisive strategy?”

His answer was interesting and I’ll sum it up below if I may:

We are asking a question
We are happy to debate and discuss
We are happy for it to go to a vote
What, in the above, are others afraid of and why would they try to prevent any of it happening?

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