Sunday, 19 February 2012

How the Scottish Temperance Act worked

Or rather didn't At least not the way the temperance fringe had hoped. Then again, they seemed to be blinded by optimism and wishful thinking to the realities of Scottish society.

The districts which voted for restrictions definitely weren't the ones the teetotallers wanted:

"Mr. Harry Earnshaw. the Secretary of the Scottish Licensed Trade Veto Defence Fund, in his able evidence before the Scottish Royal Commission furnished a useful analysis of the character of the no-licence areas. Those situated within larger burghs — wards of burghs — are of a residential type where a large proportion of electors — the wealthier classes — do not use licensed premises, and invariably keep supplies of liquor at home. The working classes of these areas have recourse to licensed premises in wards immediately adjoining their own, sometimes only across the street, "such classes being penalised to the extent of personal inconvenience." Of the remaining smaller burgh areas, which may best be described as self-contained, Mr. Earnshaw contended that none was "dry" in the true sense of the word. They are without exception immediately adjacent to "wet" areas, and the development of transport has reduced the effect of no-licence to a minimum. In some of the 13 parish areas under no-licence the state of affairs is similar to that in residential wards of burghs. The others, scattered over the country, are mainly isolated, sparsely populated, and of great extent. The effect of a no-licence resolution in such areas as these Is almost a matter of indifference, as the licensed premises which did exist invariably served only a small proportion of the electors. The accuracy of this analysis was not challenged by the witness who gave evidence on behalf of the Scottish Temperance Alliance, and it was accepted by the majority of the Royal Commission."
"The Brewers' Journal 1938" pages 13 - 14.
In the towns, only posh residential areas, where no-one went to the pub anyway,  voted for restrictions. As the good burghers kept supplies of booze at home, the net effect was virtually nil. A Pyrrhic victory, indeed.

"The supporters of the Act who could not deny that it had failed to come  up to   the  expectation  of its sponsors, attributed the failure to the change of conditions which took place between its passing in 1916 and its coming into operation in 1920. That changes, vast and  revolutionary, affecting the price of liquor, the permitted hours of opening of licensed premises, the numbers and constitution of the electorate, and many other relevant matters took place in this period is as undeniable as the failure of the Act itself. But the justice of the attribution of its failure to those changes becomes very dubious when we reflect that it has operated or failed to operate in precisely the manner which was anticipated by Lord Balfour of Burleigh and other critics of the Bill in 1913. We may conclude that the defects of the Act are inherent, and that they inherent, not in its particular machinery, but in the principle of local option itself. It is significant that the proposals of the advocates of the Act for its amendment included the sweeping away of the requirement of a vote of 35 per cent, of the electorate to carry a no-licence or limiting resolution. The teetotal minority of the Royal Commission described this as "an almost impossible provision." They further objected to the proposal recommended by the majority of the Royal Commission that the requisition for a poll, which, it will be remembered, must he signed by 10 per cent, of the electorate, should be deposited at a designated public office and there signed by registered electors, identified from the registration list in the usual way. This requirement, the minority gloomily remark, would be an effective barrier to any requisition being sufficiently signed. The supporters of local option appear to realise very clearly that no reliance can be placed on the spontaneous interest of the electorate in the subject and are prepared, rather cynically, to admit that local option can be successful only where the electorate is apathetic."
"The Brewers' Journal 1938" pages 13 - 14.
In reality, the Act was out of date before it even came into effect. WW I had seen to that, with its draconian regulations that envelopped the pub trade.

I'm not surprised that the teetotalers weren't keen on the provision that 35% of registered voters had to vote for licence restrictions for them to be carried. Noisy and well-organised they might have been, but the temperance campaigners weren't huge in number. I doubt they were 35% of the electorate anywhere. Which meant any licence restrictions could only come into force with the cooperation of other groups - such as the well-healed residents of nice districts, But their aims were quite different. They didn't want to kill the drink trade, just keep pubs and the riff-raff that used them out of their area.

Yes, I'm sure temperance groups would have preferred a simple majority and no quorum. Then hope that they could mobilise their support and their opponents couldn't. Very democratic. But that's the nub of their problem: there simply wasn't enough public support for temperance for it ever to have a chance of being enforced democratically.

In one way the temperance groups were in a better position electorally post-WW I. Because women had been enfranchised and they were much more likely to vote against drink than men. Or is that just a terrible assumption I'm making? Based probably on the temperance movement in the USA where women played a very prominent role.

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