Since I last wrote a regular newspaper column, the world has changed many times over. And yet so much remains the same. In Scotland, despite a global pandemic, soaring inflation and war in Europe, professional politics has barely changed for decades.

Political life seems stale, even with the dramatic scandals. Despite their different views on constitutional matters, our politicians are mostly a homogenous, professional class, serving the interests of the same broad group in society, albeit with a degree of tinkering to the left or right.

For left-wingers like me, there are few prospects of genuine, radical change on the horizon. At the most recent budget, Kate Forbes claimed the SNP’s hands were tied by the financial restrictions placed on our parliament by Westminster. And annoyingly, it is partly true, which is why we’re in such a bind. Personally, that’s why I’m still in favour of independence: cutting out the middle-man would help hold our own political class to account.

When I spoke to The Herald about this column’s themes, it was suggested I might give an optimistic look at our political landscape. Of course, I did laugh. Because over the last few years, I have become jaded about the seemingly intractable political stagnation, not just in Scotland but across much of world politics, and I’ve had my moments of doubt about the prospects for a better society. But my own feelings can’t disguise the fact that change is still necessary.

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Poverty, alienation and powerlessness are causing real damage in homes workplaces and communities. For a moment in 2014, ordinary people, some from the most deprived areas of deindustrialised Scotland, sensed their own power: now even that feels like vague retrospection. Much of that positive post-indyref energy across the country has been squandered by politicians. But it’s not just about independence, either. Most western governments have become detached from the majority of people, leaving career politicians, lobbyists and bureaucrats ruling over what Peter Mair called ‘the void’ between people and politics.

And it’s obvious why many like me are jaded; major opportunities for a different future– like independence- are now long gone. I don’t believe there will be a referendum in October and with each passing day, each passing scandal, I become more and more convinced it’s a carrot dangling from an electoral-strategy-stick.

In preparation for writing this piece, I reread my old columns from 2016 and realised that I had often fallen into a trap I now try to avoid: the desire to Be Right All The Time isn’t very useful. Social media feeds, comment pieces and news reports are full of a righteousness that can hinder curiosity and debate. I’ve had to ask myself, on many topics: is there a possibility that I might be wrong here? Capacity for doubt and self-reflection is lacking in political life. For me, combining self-reflection with principles and pragmatism is important if we want to arrest the democratic malaise.

That means being optimistic in a Scottish newspaper column about Scottish politics, as a pro-independence socialist, is a definite challenge. But one I can’t resist, because I’ve seen what hope can do for people and without it, what’s the point in anything? So this column is for you: the politically depressed, downhearted, despondent and doubtful. I imagine we are legion.

Is there a way to navigate through this period of inane and performative professional politics with hope for the future? Perhaps. My gut says we must find one. So here is my first idea: let’s consider that the "culture war" is unwinnable. Issues like sex and gender, mask-wearing during Covid and addressing underrepresentation in Hollywood have become singular dividing lines, instead of the greatest divide of all: the wealth and power gap.

The culture war’s right-wing are seeking to preserve their fantasy of a "lost way of life". The culture-war left think that winning the war means existing social hierarchies can be destroyed and new ones established in their place. But whilst the richest continue to profit from low wages, non-unionised workforces, privatisation of public services and exploitation of our natural resources, any new social order would only replicate the core problems of our current system. Even conservatives who purport to uphold “traditional values” cannot deny the difficulties in having a family, when the money in your pocket seems to stretch less and less and decent, affordable housing is harder and harder to come by.

I’m not saying culture war issues don’t matter: it’s just seems more like an Olympic racetrack than a battlefield. Runners go round and round until it’s hard to tell who’s in the front, and who’s in the back: everyone loses perspective. When we lose perspective, it’s easy to become disenchanted and distracted.

Read more: Holyrood is a parliament of the middle class for the middle class

I strongly fear this argument won’t make me very popular, so I tested the idea of political life beyond the culture war on myself. Think of a group, who despise your very existence, that of your family and your communities but with whom you could possibly find common cause with over the injustice like poverty in a developed nation. I’m a Catholic from an Irish background in Scotland, so this is fairly straightforward: the Orange Order. Could I fight for economic change with people who hate me? I don’t know. It’s not like I have the institutional power of the Church behind me either. My support for equal marriage and a woman’s right to choose are at odds with Catholic teachings. Can those in the Church, who agree with me on economic matters, find common ground between us, despite views they may find contemptible? Maybe.

This argument is true for the question of independence too. With a referendum off the table, people who want independence as a route to real social transformation could, for example, make peace with socialists in Scottish Labour, like Neil Findlay. By the same token, other Labour leftists must realise that support for independence isn’t going to just go away and that, often, our core motivations are still economic justice and democracy.

It would be dishonest to pretend forgiveness and open-mindedness are easy endeavours. It is incredibly hard to find common cause with those we dislike, disagree with, those who hate us, who slander and threaten us. But, truthfully, if I want to be optimistic, I have to be willing to try. Ordinary people only have one strategic advantage against obscenely rich and powerful interests: sheer, raw numbers. And I can find some hope in that.