Student activism, socialism and a new era

by Andrew Kinnell

I have often been reminded of Stirling University’s left wing history. Back in the day there were meetings which attracted hundreds of students and the political battle lines on campus were between the Communists on the right and the others on the left (including our own Ken Ferguson, I believe).

Such days are sadly over however, and some of Stirling’s most famous graduates have long abandoned the idealism and principles of their student days. One time Communist, John Reid is now Baron Reid of Cardowan, Jack McConnell is now Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Eric Joyce…well I’m not sure if he ever had principles.

While the mass meetings and the Communists may have largely gone there has been a resurgence in political activism at Scottish Universities as of late. Like the whole of Scottish society, the referendum has reinvigorated student activism and sparked a huge increase in the number of students taking notice of politics and getting involved for the first time.

The Yes campaign was active in most, if not all, of Scotland’s universities and groups such as National Collective, Generation Yes and RIC all had large student contingents. Despite the referendum being over the heightened politicisation of students has not receded.

At Stirling University three years ago there were Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem societies, no Independence favouring parties were to be seen. Now there are flourishing SNP, Green and SSP societies (with the SSP being the largest political party society on campus) each of whom have seen numbers grow dramatically and new people continually get involved; meanwhile all the Unionist parties have ceased to have a presence.

Although we are still a long way from the mass meetings and radicalism of yesteryear we are certainly heading in the right direction; towards a new form of student activism fit for the Facebook era, and left-wing ideas are at the forefront. I was recently elected as Student Union President winning with a large majority. My campaign was based around broadly socialist, left-wing themes–to fight the soaring costs of rent, to encourage more student activism, to blacklist unscrupulous landlords to name but a few policies.

During my campaign I was not only backed by fellow SSP comrades but was supported by many unaffiliated lefties, as well as people involved in the Greens and the SNP (even a few Tartan Tory types backed me). I write this not to self-congratulate but to highlight a wider trend- that socialism and socialist, left-wing ideas are becoming increasingly popular and not just among students.

It is clear however that while the SSP has grown exponentially from 14 to 30 branches in the last year alone, the left in Scotland is considerably larger than just ourselves. While many people are keen on socialist ideas they are reluctant to get involved with any one party, or have foolishly signed up to the SNP.

Colin Fox told the Daily Politics show of the ‘revolution’ taking place in Scotland, a point I would echo. People who have voted Labour all their days are abandoning the Labour Party in their droves and young people are refusing to “get back on the bus” and vote Labour as their grandparents did so loyally; Scotland’s working class will no longer be taken for granted.”

The decline of Labour is to be celebrated, but for left-wing ideas to be at the forefront of the new Scottish political landscape we need to adapt to the current climate. We are truly in a new era and students as well as the wider population are desperate for change. If in the coming years we are to replace Labour as the main opposition to the buoyant SNP we need to work with other likeminded people to achieve this difficult, yet attainable goal.