Election views - Lucy Sweet meets a lonely anti-capitalist
Once upon a time, you used to be able to identify a student area by the Socialist Worker posters and donkey jackets. Today, at the gates of Glasgow University, the only visible slogan is the name "Topshop", emblazoned on every third girl's handbag, and the only evidence of any political protest is an old "No War" peace sign, scratched into the pavement outside the library. Politics and fashion have always flirted with one another, like a pair of drunken sociology undergraduates at a Chumbawamba gig, but the post-Iraq student affair with grass-roots protest was so intensely brief that it was almost like the political equivalent of the poncho.
This year, it appears that Green is the new black. On Byres Road, a bustling thoroughfare in Glasgow's trendy bohemian quarter, a garland of "Vote Green" posters has blossomed overnight. But although everyone in student-land seems hell-bent on acting like Neil from The Young Ones, somewhere out on Byres Road there is a lone Rik.
Hidden between the bourgeois cafes and estate agents is a small boutique called "ProletariART", which has a Solidarnosc T-shirt in the window. In here, old-school political protest is repackaged and sold for £30 a pop. Perfectly folded fake tour-ist T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Come to Iraq" sit next to enamel pins from the former Soviet Union.
"You've got to appeal to people on their own terms, otherwise they're not going to be interested," says the owner and designer, Chris, a 30-year-old former politics student, who looks as if he might have a donkey jacket in the closet. He explains that anti-capitalist retail is a constant struggle between political message and wearability. "I wanted to make a miners' strike T-shirt, but a lot of the art around that time wasn't very good. I think I'll try and do one, though."
"You could put Arthur Scargill on it," I suggest.
"Hmm," he replies, unconvinced.
Although his business might be a contradiction in terms, at least Chris is having a go at introducing some political element into everyday life. Despairingly, he tells me that during the last election he worked as a volunteer at a polling station, and found that people didn't even know how to vote. ("Which box do ah tick for Blair?" was the general cry.) As a student, he found a similar lack of motivation.
"When I went to university I thought it'd be all Red Wedge, but it wasn't,'' he moans. "People just aren't interested. I thought there would be some upsurge in interest during Iraq, but it's just gone back to the way it was."
But Chris hopes that buying a T-shirt from him will be the start of an educational experience that might shift the youth of today out of their apolitical slump.
"When I was doing the Solidarnosc T-shirts, I just assumed people would know what it meant, but they don't. That's why I put in the descriptive," he says, gesturing to a slip of paper featuring a wordy tract about Lech Walesa. "Hopefully, something will filter through."
If it doesn't, though, I'm sure those new Arthur Scargill T-shirts would look great with a pair of Topshop jeans.