THE SNP prides itself on being a party of youth and of the future. Unfortunately, recent polling data suggests the relationship between young people and the SNP is proving more ambiguous. A poll by Survation – conducted between October 18-21, so before the latest Brexit squall – indicates that more 18 to 24-year-olds are prepared to vote Labour rather than SNP.

What gives?

The Survation poll found that 30.1% of Scots aged 18-24 say they would vote Labour at a General Election. This compares to 28.2% for the SNP. The Tories scored a derisory 6.1%, even less than the LibDems, who were on 7.1%.

On this evidence, Scottish Labour are doing better among the young than the SNP are.

In breaking down the Survation poll, the actual sample of those in the 18-24 age group comes to only 111. Such a tiny polling group pushes up the margin of error considerably. You could argue that at 30% and 28%, Scottish Labour and the SNP are really running neck and neck among younger voters, or even that the Nats are just ahead.

However, a closer look at the data suggests that might be wishful thinking by the SNP. Correcting for those most likely to vote, and eliminating the “don’t knows”, we find the Labour-voting margin increases to 41.5% of Scots aged 18-24, compared to 38% for the SNP.

This should not come as any surprise, but it must be taken seriously by the SNP leadership. Labour’s shift to the left at a UK national level under Jeremy Corbyn has animated young people. It is true there was a tendency to overestimate the numbers of young people in England who actually voted in last year’s General Election. But it is still a fact that the vast majority of young folk who made it into the polling booths in 2017 supported Corbyn. The latest polls show nearly 60% of young people in the UK intend to vote for him again. That’s despite Labour dropping several points behind the Tories in recent months.

The curious fact about young Scots looking to Corbyn is that they are still very much supporters of independence. The same Survation poll shows that 66.3% of those aged 18-24 intend to vote Yes to Scottish independence, which knocks any margin of error out of the park. What this proves is that young folk are looking for radical solutions – constitutionally, economically and socially. If the SNP are unwilling to provide those solutions, the youth might look elsewhere.

This less-than-startling conclusion is underlined in the Survation predictions for votes on the regional list at the next Holyrood election. Here Survation finds that 34.1% of the 18-24s will vote SNP. This is neck-and-neck with Scottish Labour on 34% (fully 10 points above their national score). But the radical Scottish Greens were on a significant 14.7% of the vote when it comes to the Scottish Parliament, way up on the 6.6% they scored at the Holyrood election in 2016. Assuming young folk across the political spectrum give the Greens their second preference votes, we could be looking at many more Green MSPs next time around.

To these findings we can add other, more qualitative evidence. The Scottish Independence Convention has been conducting focus groups examining voter intentions regarding independence, specifically among those who voted No in 2014.

To everyone’s surprise, there appears to be even more potential for winning over young people. The reason is that the young are less risk averse than mature voters (especially those over 55). To put it simply, young people who voted No in the last indyref are scunnered by Brexit and are prepared to reconsider independence as an option. But that means giving them strong, positive messages about what independence can do to improve their life choices – not the steady-as-you-go formulations of the SNP Growth Commission.

Here we come back to Labour. In Scotland, the Labour political apparatus remains a weird alliance of conservative trade union bureaucrats such as Richard Leonard plus the old, grumpy Blairite right of Iain Gray and Anas Sarwar. Under Leonard, this lash-up has concentrated on attacking the social democratic SNP rather than the Tories, effectively letting Ruth Davidson and the English nationalist Brexiteers off the hook. Conclusion: Any attraction to Labour for young Scots has more to do with Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to confront capitalism as a system, rather than any sympathy with Scottish Labour’s semi-Stalinist rejection of the right to self-determination.

That said, the Survation poll is a warning: The SNP leadership must be more radical if they are to keep and extend support among young voters. In power, as is the case with all parties, the SNP have sometimes tempered their native radicalism in order to hold the middle ground. I’m not against such pragmatism if it yields an electoral dividend. But, over time, temperance can lead to political passivity, and passivity will lose us the younger voters. For example, the SNP Government recently blocked a perfectly sound Green proposal to introduce third-party right of appeal against big developers on planning decisions. This was a grave mistake and sends exactly the wrong signal.

It is true that the SNP Government has introduced radical measures, such as the community right to buy and the Scottish National Investment Bank. But such measures are not electoral decorations, they are there to be used. The whole point of the community right to buy is to transform Scotland from having one of the most concentrated land ownerships in the western world into a country where the ground is owned and used productively by its own citizens. A state investment bank is not there to fill gaps but to displace RBS and Lloyds – which have collectively destroyed whole swathes of Scottish business.

As the Tory Government implodes, the acid test for the SNP is how to engage with the nation’s youth. The average age of party members is circa 54, and that’s after the 2014 influx. To appeal to the young, we need to be a party of the young. For starters, that means giving more power and finance to our youth wings, Young Scots for Independence and SNP Students. There might even be a case for launching a national youth movement that covers the whole pro-independence spectrum rather than just SNP members.

Beyond that, we need to envisage a society where young people have more power. That means an economy where people rule and where decisions are taken democratically at every level, not by the City or the Bank of England monetary policy committee.

Committing the SNP to such a radical programme is a risk. It will enrage the London media and frighten some. But building a new nation is not without risk. The more relevant question is what sort of a nation do you want to live in?

For sure, being a powerless appendage to a post-Brexit, Little England – caught in the middle of international trade wars and galloping climate destruction – is a far riskier proposition than striking out on our own. Especially if you have your whole life ahead of you.