Basilia Weir tells us why she won’t be joining a political party anytime soon.
You think you’re dead smart before you get to uni. Right into politics. You’re studying it, after all. You know who Angela Merkel is, you’ve got a vague interest in Scandinavian politics, and Justin Trudeau is your celebrity crush – swot material or what? And then you go to add someone from said Politics class on Facebook, only to see that they’re the regional youth leader of a major political party. Oh god, you think, maybe fancying the prime minister of Canada won’t quite cut it at Glasgow Uni…
So, yes, in your average Politics class here, you’ll find that a fair few students are members of political parties. Some help run them. Some even get elected. However, we can see from the Party Membership Project that this doesn’t reflect trends in wider society: party membership has been declining since the mid 20th century. Their study records very small percentages of the population as being members of a party. And, as of 2017, the average age of those who do pay dues to major parties is between 52 and 57. Therefore, we can gather that young people are also declining to join political parties today. I happen to be one of them.
If you asked me three years ago why I wasn’t a member of a party, my answer would either have been, “dunno, really” or “I want to be a journalist”. See, at the time, I thought journalists, especially good ones, had to be apolitical. I obviously wasn’t paying as close attention to the News at Ten as I thought. Anyway, the crux of it is: I didn’t know which party I’d even join. I knew I was somewhere between the SNP and Labour, but I didn’t have particularly strong opinions on either. My career aspirations meant that I didn’t have to give it much more thought, so I didn’t.
Nowadays, my answer to that question is a bit different. See, I could point out a myriad of differences between the SNP and Labour. Wouldn’t be of much use, though, since I am now more aligned with the Scottish Greens. My career aspirations have shifted to be more political, too. I’ll sum up my politics: I talk extensively about why public transport should actually be public, I work my disdain for capitalism into any sentence possible, and the term “girl-boss” makes me shudder. In all seriousness, there are a lot of sticking points for me now.
Trans rights, for example. I don’t feel comfortable joining a party that has transphobes permeating its ranks. That just about rules out the three main parties in Scotland. Yes – the SNP made moves in the past few weeks to affirm its support for the trans community, but when you’ve been in power for almost a decade, that isn’t wholly convincing. Then there’s the whole neoliberalism thing.
I look at the Labour party and I see big ideas about equality and caring that are simply that: ideas. Empty promises. A facade. Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto is the Labour party I want. One that’s committed to workers, to public services, to moving away from capitalism. Socialism. I want a socialist Labour party. You know, the reason it was initially founded? But, despite self-identifying as a socialist, I don’t see Starmer delivering on this. I see a weak opposition party, more interested in waving flags and appealing to a demographic whose vote is long gone, rather than appealing to leftists, Scots and young people.
You might be wondering: why don’t you join the Greens? I don’t have a good answer for that. Too much talk about major and minor parties and wasted votes in my politics class, I guess. I think that’s probably a reason for declining party membership. At the general level, you have this two-horse race, except it’s a recurring nightmare in which the racist, Eton-educated horse wins every time. Then there’s the media’s unwillingness to cover smaller parties that aren’t helmed by Nigel Farage. Helmed is a strong word. It can seem silly or pointless to put your hopes, and cash, on a party that doesn’t even stand in your constituency. In an ideal world with major political overhauls, I’d consider joining the Scottish Greens.
It’s hard not to feel disillusioned when the main parties seem to be regressing and would rather make fun of progressive ideas to score points with the GMB panel and Murdoch’s media empire than actually progress. Why would a student want to give their money to fund that disillusionment? I think the Lib Dems sum Britain’s main parties up perfectly: saying you’re on the side of students, making big promises to us, then stabbing us in the back in exchange for a sliver of power. Now, my political punditry skills aren’t the greatest – I’m no Phillip Schofield – and I can’t tell you why young conservatives aren’t joining parties. I can speak to my own personal experience, though: I don’t feel comfortable paying dues to a party that wants my money and my vote but not my ideas.