Last week, an article was published in The Saint, entitled “The Case for Political Pragmatism.” Now, normally, I’d be all for hearing arguments in favour of pragmatism – who wouldn’t be? But, unfortunately, the article seems to make very little attempt to actually make them. Instead, it spends the best part of five hundred words attacking our new Rector, Srdja Popovic for espousing the dangerous and radical belief that getting students involved in campaigning for a better St Andrews might be a good thing.
I’m not going to try to and rebut every single point the article makes, mainly because I don’t understand them (it claims on one hand that “most of Srdja’s voters” don’t believe that his manifesto will be fulfilled, and then a couple of hundred words later that actually, yes we do believe in it, but only because we’re ignorant). But I am going to take issue with one specific claim made by the article, in order to show more broadly why these criticisms of Srdja don’t stack up.
The article claims that Srdja’s pledge to campaign for a rail link to St Andrews is evidence of his firebrand radicalism, and has distracted students from real, workable solutions, like petitioning Scotrail to change its entire ticketing system. Let’s put aside the fact that Willie Rennie is also a supporter of the campaign for a St Andrews rail link, and his team said so during the campaign. Let’s also put aside the fact that acknowledging St Andrews’ status as the only university town in Scotland, and one of four university towns in the UK, without a railway station as a problem is hardly a revolutionary prospect. The article implies that Srdja wants students, through means of “a massive protest” to compel the Scottish Government to build a railway station, and notes that “angry students at Scotland’s most privileged University demanding a rail station…doesn’t really play the sympathy card.” And, you know what? That’s correct. It would be incredibly stupid if Srdja thought we could get a railway station by calling on students to take to the streets until the Government took notice.
I’m afraid at this point I have to declare a personal interest. I was Srdja Popovic’s campaign manager, and have been responsible for shaping our strategy going forward. Yet, at no point did we discuss having a mass protest of the type the article in The Saint describes. And at no point did we suggest that a mass protest would be the first step to achieving any of Srdja’s goals. I’m not, to be clear, accusing the author of the article of lying, but it would be nice if he had tried to learn something about the plans he criticised.
Now, it’s correct to say that Srdja’s goals are ambitious ones – not even I would deny that fighting for them is going to be difficult. But, to borrow a commonly used phrase of Srdja’s, it’s better to demand 100% and end up with 50% of what you want, than to demand 50% and end up with 25%. Of course, not all of the skills Srdja used to bring down murderous dictators are applicable to seaside towns in North East Fife, but it should be remembered that he’s also used these skills to help students in Universities much like St Andrews fight for better housing. And, more importantly, if there’s enough ingenuity and talent in St Andrews to make us one of the best Universities in the world, getting better housing and transport shouldn’t be outside our abilities.
And if you want to hear more details about how, feel free to email me at [email protected]. Let’s start a revolution.