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The Social and Industrial history of Scotland, from the Union to the present time
Nineteenth Century: 17. Shadows of Social Life

Inadequate housing is not the only shadow of social life in Scotland. Drunkenness has long been a social evil of very grave magnitude. The poverty, squalor, vice, and crime of the slum districts of the large towns are largely traceable to this evil. Rut the drink demon lurks in every corner of the land and among all classes, and its shadow is a blot on the fair name of Scotland. Men and even women, boys and even girls, staggering along the streets, shouting, using foul language, quarrelling and fighting, are too common sights—an outrage on public decency, a disgrace to themselves and their country. There has, happily, been a gradual improvement in the general attitude towards this vice. In all classes drunkenness is now regarded as a degradation of both the individual and society. The excess in drinking at dinner parties and other social functions, characteristic of the eighteenth century and even the early nineteenth, is no longer tolerated. The upper classes, which so long set a flagrantly bad example to the lower in this respect, have learned better. What our grandfathers and great-grandfathers called drinking under the table has gone out of fashion. The drinking bout, in which former generations habitually indulged, is out of date. The public taste no longer provides the atmosphere in which the drinking songs of Burns found their natural expression. Even genius would fail to evoke a genuine response to the glorification of toping and topers. To every self-respecting person drunkenness is simply a form of beastliness. Its injurious physical effects are widely recognised and more and more emphasised by medical men, philanthropists, employers of labour, and the working classes themselves. Health statistics reveal it as a potent cause of disease and degeneration. The criminal statistics prove conclusively that it is one of the most fertile causes of crime, and that sobriety is the best adjunct of law-abiding. Its baneful economic effects are equally appreciated. It is responsible for a great deal of inefficiency and absence from work. According to the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, if the habit of excessive drinking were eradicated, three-fourths of the distress, poverty, and deterioration in the nation would disappear along with it. The tendency of such facts has been to excite a widespread sense of the gravity of the evil, to discredit the old excessive drinking habit, and to beget a strong public sense of the virtue of temperance, and the necessity of temperance reform on moral, physical, and economic grounds.

Temperance legislation, in its mildest form, in Scotland may be said to date from the Home-Drummond Act of 1828, which conferred on Justices of the Peace in counties and Magistrates in burghs the granting of certificates for the sale of liquor, with appeal to Quarter Sessions, and enacted penalties for breach of certificate. Twenty-five years later (1853) the Forbes Mackenzie Act reduced the hours of sale (8 a.m. to 11 p.m.), closed the public-houses on Sundays, prohibited the sale of drink in tollhouses situated within six miles of a licensed house, and restricted the licensed grocer to selling drink for consumption off the premises only. Subsequent legislation augmented the power of police supervision, restricted the granting of new licenses, empowered the Magistrates in burghs of less than 50,000 inhabitants to fix the closing hoar at 10 p.m., prohibited the sale to children under 14, with certain exceptions, and dealt with the inebriate class.

In 1896 a Royal Commission was appointed to review the operation of the licensing laws. It reported in 1899, but failed to come to an unanimous decision, and the Act of 1903 incorporated a large proportion of the recommendations of both the Majority and the Minority Reports. It consolidated the licensing laws, adding new provisions and superseding old ones, and sought to check, by penalising more severely, immoderate drinking. It constituted a Licensing Court in burghs of 4,000 and over, and in counties, or districts of counties, as the County Council might determine. In burghs the Licensing Court consists of the Magistrates, in counties of members of the County Council and Justices of the Peace in equal proportions, the number of members varying with the population of the county. In both burghs and counties there is a Court of Appeal. Certificates are granted for a year or six months, and are renewable. Rut new certificates are subject to certain conditions as to the character of the applicant and the suitability of the premises for the purpose. Objection may be taken to the granting or renewal of a certificate by interested parties, and if the objection is sustained, the certificate shall not be granted or renewed. Breaches of certificate are punishable by fine, and involve liability to the forfeiture of the certificate. A third offence entails such forfeiture, in addition to an increased fine. Shebeening, or selling liquor in unlicensed premises, is punishable by heavy penalties, and persons found drinking on such premises are liable to a fine. Hawking exciseable liquors is also a punishable offence, and the prohibition to sell drink by a licensed grocer to be consumed on the premises is made more stringent. Disorderly conduct on licensed premises is punishable by fine, and drunkenness by fine or imprisonment, whilst it is illegal to sell liquor for a period of three years to those convicted four times for drunkenness. The authorities in the large towns were empowered to close the public-houses at 10 p.m. During the war the hours were drastically reduced by special legislation, still in force, with very beneficial results.

This legislation was due in part to the growing influence of the temperance movement in Scotland. This movement may be said to have started in 1825 with the agitation, on the part of the Scottish brewers, against the use of " ardent spirits," which contributed to the passing of the Home-Drummond Act in 1828. In the year following the passing of this Act, Mr Dunlop formed the Greenock Temperance Society. The Glasgow and West of Scotland Temperance Society, in whose formation William Collins, the bookseller, took an active part, followed within a couple of months. Other pioneers were Stewart Morris, Robert Kettle, Robert Smith, Professor James Miller, Dr A. Wallace, and Dr Thomas Guthrie. In 1844 the Scottish Temperance League was founded at Falkirk on the total abstinence principle, and, by means of agitation by paid agents and publication, lias carried on an active crusade against intemperance during the last three-quarters of a century. By and bye the churches took up the question by means of their Temperance Committees, and other associations, such as the Independent Order of Good Templars, the Independent Order of Rechabites, the Scottish Temperance and Permissive Bill Association, the Scottish Band of Hope, widened the movement, which has long been a force to be reckoned with in both political and social life.

A large section of the public, though not adhering to the principle of total abstinence professed by these societies, sympathises with their efforts to combat the drink evil, and it was due to the pressure of public opinion that the Scottish Temperance Act of 1913 was placed on the Statute Book. A time limit of seven years was fixed before the principle of local option could be put in operation, and it was not till the autumn of 1920 that the voting took place in all burgh and county areas in Scotland. It was not strictly a question between prohibition and non-prohibition, for the electors were given the choice of three alternatives—no change, no license, and the limitation of licenses. Practically, however, it proved to be a trial of strength between no change and no license, since the number of voters who preferred limitation was comparatively small. Judged by areas, those in favour of no change were in an overwhelming majority—504 out of a total of 580. For limitation the number was 85, for no license 47, or, deducting Dornoch, which subsequently, in a second vote, reversed its decision and voted no change, 46. Judged by the numbers voting, the majority was far less formidable, the total vote for no license being equal to nearly two-thirds of the total vote for no change. Moreover, for the carrying of any alternative it was essential, first, that thirty-five per cent, of the total voters on the roll in any given area should take part in the vote, and, second, that fifty-five per cent, of those voting should record their votes in its favour before no license could be carried. If a simple majority had been the test, the proportion of areas in favour of no license would have been considerably larger.

Counting by individual votes, the result sufficiently shows that widespread dissatisfaction with the present system prevails. Nor can the substantial majority in favour of no change be interpreted as a vote against reform. It only shows that a large number of voters regarded the alternative, no license, as an impracticable one, and the vote for no change thus did not necessarily imply that no change was in itself desirable. The extreme temperance party in insisting so uncompromisingly on no license, as the only cure for the evil, has itself to blame, to a certain extent at least, for its defeat.

Meanwhile the problem of drunkenness remains with us. Whilst the temperance party is closing its ranks for a fresh assault in due time, moderate people have suggested various expedients, such as a system of rationing, the substitution of the restaurant for the dram-shop, the elimination of self-interest by the nationalisation or municipalisation of the trade. The trade itself has drafted a bill for the reform of the public-house. The Bill is at least an evidence of the conviction, on its part, of the necessity of reform in the national interest. The chairman of the trade, however, can hardly be said to have made friends for the proposed measure by attacking the churches for the stand they have made in favour of local option. Surely this is a social as well as a political question, and the tragic effects of the drink evil with which every minister, elder, and member of the churches makes acquaintance, in greater or less degree, afford reason enough for organised action to counter it, though there may be difference of opinion as to methods.

Connected with drunkenness is sexual impurity, with the resultant evils of illegitimacy, divorce, prostitution, venereal disease, and relative crime. Bad housing, which renders decent family life an impossibility in the overcrowded areas of the towns, runs a neck-and-neck race with excessive drinking in nurturing this vice. In Scotland the percentage of illegitimate children has varied during the last sixty years from about 7 per cent, to 10 per cent. In 1855 it was 7.88, 10.27 in 1866, 6.21 in 1003. Since then it has averaged about 7.0. It has varied with the district, being highest in the counties of Banff, Elgin, and Wigtown, where in 1014 it was respectively 14.51, 14.27, and 13.41.

In the county of Dumbarton it was as low as 4.49. It was larger in the eastern districts, with a more extensively arable soil, than in the western. In the principal towns the highest was 9.79 in Edinburgh, the lowest 3.96 in Govan and Coatbridge. Taking Scotland as a whole the percentage of 7.29 compares unfavourably with England with 4.3, Wales with 5.4, and Ireland with 2.8. This unfavourable position is probably due to some extent to the fact that the law of Scotland rightly legitimates children born before marriage, should the parties afterward marry. The housing of unmarried farm servants of both sexes on the "bothy" system is another source of illegitimacy. Illegitimacy is, however, not a gauge of the extent of sexual immorality. In the towns, where the percentage of illegitimacy is generally less than in the counties, sexual immorality is far more prevalent in virtue of the fact not only that the opportunity of gratifying it is far more abundant, but the means of preventing pregnancy are more easily available.

Prostitution is one of the saddest features of town life. One cause of it is the bad housing of overcrowded areas, which makes a decent home environment for the girls of the family impossible, and predisposes them to become the prey of the seducer. Another is the inadequate earnings of working girls in many occupations. Alcoholism is an invariable concomitant as well as a cause. In Scotland establishments for this purpose are illegal, and the police are active in the crusade against them. The employment of women police, started during the war, is a step in the right direction. But prostitution in itself is not a crime. Known prostitutes can only be arrested if found importuning, and proof in the case of immoral houses is not easy. Whilst concerted prostitution is liable to prosecution, the individual prostitute who lives apart may practice her low vocation with impunity. Fines and imprisonment are not adequate deterrents, and the task of either reforming the prostitute or providing her with a new start in life is a very difficult one. The rescue home is at most but a palliative of what is an inveterate social disease, and the hope of anything like an effective remedy lies in the betterment of the social conditions that tend to feed this social malady, especially of home life and family upbringing in the poor quarters of our cities, though the evil is by no means confined to any one class.

Among the evils inseparable from this \ice is the widespread propagation of venereal disease, which first appeared in Scotland at the close of the fifteenth century. According to the evidence of the late Sir W. Osier, given in the Report of the Commission, which was appointed in 1918 to investigate the subject, and reported in 1916, " the number of persons who have been infected with syphilis, acquired or congenital, cannot fall below 10 per cent, in the large cities, and the percentage affected with gonorrhoea must greatly exceed this proportion." Resides the horrible physical suffering and misery caused by the disease in its worst forms, the economic loss is very serious. It unfits its victims permanently, or for longer or shorter periods, for work. In the Navy in 1912, for instance, with a strength of 119,540 men, it was responsible for a total loss of 209,210 days. In the case of the home Army with a strength of 107,582 men, the loss in days was 216,445. In the case of the civil population, for which exact statistics are not available, the Commissioners were of opinion that the loss would be found to be " extremely large," the civil population not having, at the date of the Report, the easy access to the best modern treatment provided for the Navy and Army. According to the same evidence, the disease is the cause of an enormous loss of child life and of a large proportion of sterility among men and women, and consequently materially contributes to the declining birth rate. It is responsible for more than half the percentage of blindness in children. Its ravages among the forces at home and abroad during the war were appalling. It can only be described as a plague, and the statistics constitute a terrible indictment of the demoralising effect of military service on the morals of hundreds of thousands of our young manhood. It undoubtedly constitutes a grave national danger, to eradicate which the most resolute measures are urgently needed. The Commissioners recommend that infectious venereal disease should form a bar to marriage, and that, if acquired after marriage, it should be a valid ground for divorce. They emphasise the necessity for the judicious and timely education of the young in the subject, and the extension of free medical and hospital treatment for those afflicted with the disease. The latter recommendation has been put in force by the Local Government Board, which, in October 1916, issued an Order requiring Iocal Authorities to prepare schemes for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of venereal disease. Under this Order free treatment is provided to all persons suffering from any form of this disease. Special agencies of a voluntary character, like the Alliance of Honour, are also engaged in educating public opinion and combating the evil by means of religious and educational influences.

Divorce is an all too frequent result of sexual immorality. In proportion to population the percentage of divorces for adultery or desertion remained practically stationary for a considerable period before the war. The percentage was one divorce for every 170 marriages. The cases tried do not, however, represent the actual amount of misconduct of this kind, since casual cases of adultery are often condoned by the aggrieved party. Irregular marriages far more frequently end in divorce than regular, and those of young persons than those of couples of more mature age. The war has unfortunately led to a marked increase of these cases in both England and Scotland, and the increasing evidence of this unsound condition of family life is very disquieting. Little wonder that it has been the subject of unfavourable comment by some of the Judges, like Lord Sands, whose special duties bring them into touch with this form of social wreckage.

Another social evil which has become alarmingly prevalent is gambling,—the result partly of the lure of the excitement inherent in transactions which have the element of hazard, partly of the desire to make money by fictitious means. Of its extent the Report of the House of Lords Committee in 1902 bears explicit evidence. Betting, the Committee reported, is much more widespread, especially among the working classes, than it used to be. The increase has mostly taken place during the last thirty or forty years, and is due in large measure to the growing popularity of certain sports, cheap communication by post and telegraph, the rise of the popular press, and the decay of the spirit of thrift. Statistics of prosecutions for offences against the Betting and Gaming Acts confirm the conclusion of the Lords' Committee. In 1014 the number of convictions on this ground in Scotland was 764, whilst statisticians have estimated the present number of bookmakers in the United Kingdom at 30,000, compared with 20 at the beginning of the nineteenth century. A large number of crimes of dishonesty and of bankruptcies h due to losses through gambling. The amount of space devoted in the newspapers to betting news is another indication of what has become a sort of mania. It is only necessary to observe the eager hunt for the evening papers, with their detailed reports of horse racing or football matches, to realise that a large proportion of their readers are mercenarily interested in these, above all other items. It is rampant among all classes, but especially among the working classes, who stand to lose a large part of their earnings in its pursuit. Since the war it is said to have greatly spread among women workers. According to Mr Arthur Henderson, " gambling is a greater foe to labour than all the forces of capitalism." Other Labour leaders have spoken to the same effect, and its injurious tendency has been emphasised by competent representatives of other classes. Besides the material loss, betting has lowered legitimate sport, with the exception of cricket and Rugby football, which have escaped the contagion, into a scramble for gain. Other forms of gambling, like card playing, are also all too prevalent, though games of chance, like roulette, are illegal, and in Scotland the law against these and also lotteries is strictly enforced. The Stock Exchange is likewise too much dominated by the gambling spirit in the form of transactions which cannot be called genuine buying and selling, but are mere manipulations for gain at the expense of somebody else.

The physique of the nation, as tested by the medical examination of recruits during the year November 1917-Oetober 1918, leaves much to be desired. Of every nine men of military age examined in Great Britain, three only were perfectly fit; two were able to undergo physical exertion which does not involve severe strain; three were fit for only a very moderate degree of exertion, and one was a chronic invalid. In the case of the industrial areas of Scotland physical condition was found to depend less on industrial than social conditions, such as housing and feeding. A very large number was graded low, not because of actual disease, but because of disability arising from some physical defect which was preventable. A general feature was the large number of low graded men in unproductive occupations, such as clerks and grocers. Another was the disappointing physique of boys. Again, the percentage was higher for artisans, agricultural workers, and miners than for factory workers. The Report brings out the urgency of social reform and the importance of physical training in schools, and of healthy recreation in the hours of relaxation from work, which are far too apt to be devoted to unhealthy pastimes, such as habitual attendance at picture houses and football matches in place of regular participation in outdoor games.

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