Teen Spirit: Do our political views really change as we get older?
Nostalgia is not usually something I indulge in, but during the pandemic it’s been hard not to think back to happier and less anxious times.
I was a teenager in the 1990s, a decade which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union and where the continued triumph of democracy and liberalism was taken as read.
But while all that grown-up stuff registered with me, none of it had the visceral impact of hearing Nirvana for the first time.
The emergence of Kurt Cobain and his bandmates was re-visited in an excellent recent BBC documentary, When Nirvana Came to Britain.
Speaking to those who met the band on their early trips to the UK, it featured an interview with the former owner of a down-at-heel London guesthouse and those lucky to have been in an Edinburgh pub for an impromptu appearance by Kurt and Dave Grohl.
But there’s another documentary helping feed my nostalgia for the 1990s.
Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution begins by charting the rise of the party from the doldrums of the 1980s to the heady heights of 1997 when the new prime minister’s approval rating hit 93 per cent following the death of Princess Diana.
As a teenager preparing to go to university at the time, it was hard not to feel the sense of optimism that came with New Labour and the sweeping away of 18 years of Tory rule.
Things soured quickly, particularly after Blair committed Britain to the conflict in Iraq, ignoring the wishes of hundreds of thousands of young people who joined anti-war marches in Glasgow and London.
But for a brief time in the late 90s, before 9/11 and the events which would come to define the early part of the next century, there was hope that politics could be different. That policies such as the national minimum wage and the advent of devolution pointed to a future where social justice mattered and important decisions would be made closer to those affected.
The politics of the young tend to be more radical, unfettered by the prosaic but very real concerns of middle age such as mortgages and pensions. Put simply, the young are much more likely to take a risk.
That was presumably what Nicola Sturgeon was referring to when she told the Financial Times during a recent interview that she had “time on her side”.
While Sturgeon’s comments were seized on by her political opponents, who accused her of being crass, they are nevertheless undeniable – the polls show a majority of young Scots back independence.
While my musical tastes have changed over the past 25 years, the political issues I care about haven’t. Age brings pragmatism, but it shouldn’t crush youthful idealism.
Those who believe we’re better off in the UK need to make the case for a positive future. Nostalgia isn’t enough.