Alcohol Licensing in Scotland II


When moves were afoot to introduce bans on smoking in enclosed places, fears that comparable restrictions would then move onto alcohol were, it was said, unfounded.  Then that happened.

Now, fears that this is pussyfooting around for admitting to introducing further puritanical controls over private individuals are, it is said, unfounded.  Yet, that ol’ ambivalent affair with alcohol – maybe between dour, Calvinistic sociopathic Scots and relaxed Irish Catholicism – is old.

It may be not obvious to look at now, but for 25 years, between 1922 and 1947, Wick in Caithness was officially a dry-town with the no alcohol licenses permitted within its confines. 

As a focus of the herring fleet, Wick and adjacent Pulteneytown attracted many ‘uncouth’ types to horrify the middle-class sensibilities, and which provided grist for the growing temperance movement, such as conducted by Baptism or Wesleyan Methodism who were driven by Biblically-mandated Rechabism.

Following the example of Thurso, in January 1840 the Wick and Pulteneytown Total Abstinence Society’ was formed under the direction of the Methodist minister at the time, and a Temperance Hall soon constructed and named after him (cf. Mount Hooley).  Other temperance movements had been growing across the country, and were linked to the emergence of friendly societies. 

Dedicated temperence hotels began to appears as it was suspected that many landlords and publicans were encouraging meetings on their premises to increase revenue.  On my other truly awful blog, I featured the shortest street in the world.  This consists only of the No 1 Bistro which is attached to Mackay’s Hotel: originally the Temperance Hotel in town.

The Temperance (Scotland) Act 1913 allowed local councils to impose a bans on alcohol sales with a simple majority of votes cast.  The first polls were held in 1920, after the distraction of the Great War, but over 540 polls returned opposition.  Those which voted for bans included Stromness in Orkney, Lerwick in Shetland and Wick in Caithness.

Yet, the Licensing Court had reviewed all licenses for Wick hoteliers and publicans in 1920, suggesting there was little support from the great and merely powerful of Wick society.  Neighbouring Watten had voted down proposals by 3:1.  The No License movement was dominated by church ministers, as well as a handful of former Suffragettes who had spent years agitating for the franchize to be granted to middle-class women whilst 40% of all men did not have the franchize.

That is, people who knew what is best for other people, even when those other people think otherwise.

The popular vote took place in December 1920, with imported speakers and children attending with banners proclaiming “Vote No License, As I Have No Vote, Will You Vote No License for Me?”, and returned some 1,500 supporters against 900 opponents.  Such are the dangers of plebiscites and giving too much authority directly to mob-approval.

Appeals were made to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, but from May 1922, all alcohol licenses were withdrawn, and remained so throughout the Second World War even with an influx of large numbers of servicemen, being repealed only in 1947.  Yet  drinkers had quickly found loopholes, such as the possibility of buying no less than four dozen bottles of beer or one dozen bottles of (locally distilled) whisky on wholesale which were then consumed in US-style shebeens or drinking-dens (one immediately behind the Police station). 

As part of the Wick/Latheron railway line, a regular service ran to refresh drinkers in Latheron licensed establishments, although this ceased in 1844.

Although the herring industry already was in decline, the repeal lobby were keen to link the departure of boats to ports such as Peterhead for the lack of available drink for their crews.

The Temperance (Scotland) Act 1913 and local polls were finally abolished by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976.  Which is what the Calvinistic Republic of Scotland now wishes to alter.


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