There are fundamental differences between Scotland and the rest of the U.K. which reflect back on the individual life-styles of men and women living in Scotland. Some of these differences can be understood using the simple analysis that life outside London is barbarious for all “sub-cultures” and that it is self~evident that life in the “provinces” must be an eternally lonely and frustrating existence.
It’s not really as simple as that, however, and the above analysis makes the fundamental error of assuming that life for homosexuals in and around London must be always very pleasant with everyone else having to cope with a less pleasant existence. In fact activists living in a smaller community where any action at the local level is rewarded by quick attention and positive response. Whether that response is creative or destructive will depend a lot on the calibre of the local gay activists. It is easier, too, for the local gay community to get a corporate feeling of togetherness – you can’t just drop out of sight very easily, and the pleasant spin-off from this is that people care a bit more about your personal happiness.
But, again, I just want to underline that the picture is complex, and that there are a thousand graduations between city sizes and community spirit. Before I bow to discipline and keep to the subject in hand, I’d like to suggest that gay commentators in other regions could help provide an unrivalled service by writing about their own part of the U.K. especially if they’ve travelled around and put thing into perspective: we readers of “Gay News” may wonder just what it is that makes life so different for a Geordie a Mancunian, a gay Derry Boy (surely Northern Ireland must be the most socially and legally deprived area of Britain). There must be rich seams of unrecognised local slang, unrecorded local life-styles – what a PhD awaits the lucky researcher! Or the updater of Montgomery Hyde’s now sadly uncontemporary survey of homosexuality in Britain!
OUTRAGES ON DECENCY: Any male person who, in public or in private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any all of gross indecency with another male person, shall be liable to imprisonment for two years. (S.11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act l885). Got it? Let me spell it out: two guys in private, perhaps also lovers, can’t fuck, suck, or toss (or anything else remotely sexual) without committing a criminal offence. Age is no protection. And that is the law under statute in Scotland. At common law we have the crime of SODOMY: Sodomy is the crime of unnatural connection between human males. Both parties, if consenting, are guilty. As with rape, proof of penetration is an indispensable requirement. It’s a messy, antediluvian situation, and neatly reflects the unenlightened. near perverted attitudes towards sex which has clouded the minds of our moral law writers. The state of the law is one major barrier towards a well-balanced, well-informed society.
Yet the state of the law in Scotland hasn’t prevented the flourishing of an outward-going gay community (at least in Edinburgh), nor has the law prevented the growth of a service group (the Scottish Minorities Group) dedicated to the promotion of the interests of the homosexual community. The police have very few statutory powers of arrest in Scotland (unlike England) and the power to arrest is based on the common law. The most prominent offences linked with homosexual behaviour aret
dedicated to the promotion of the interests of the homosexual community. The police have very few statutory powers of arrest in Scotland (unlike England) and the power to arrest is based on the common law. The most prominent offences linked with homosexual behaviour are the common law offences of “shameless indecency” and “breach of the peace”, the latter of which is used quite widely in Scotland. The police are not involved in the prosecution. Public prosecution is conducted by the Burgh Prosecutor (police courts) or the Procurator Fiscal or Advocate Deputy (Sheriff or High Courts). The policy of successive Lord Advocates has been not to prosecute for “in private” activity, and so homosexuals in Scotland enjoy, for all practical legal purposes, the same freedoms as heterosexuals. Scots law of evidence affords an extra protection to the citizen. However, the laws remain unreformed – an insult to every right-thinking person. A friend of mine, extolling the “golden age” of the l8th Century and deploring the tawdryness of contemporary 20th century life, conveniently forgot the fact that today we are confined by legal and moral restraints brought about in response to specific events in the 19th Century. We too easily forget that the “age of Consent” up to 1875 was 12. In that year it was raised to 13, and then to 16 in 1885. The idea that two men in their teens taking part in homosexual actions cannot be “consenting” is laughable, yet the Sexual Offences Act 1967 says just that. Thank goodness this ugly piece of modern legislation does NOT apply to Scotland. It perpetuates the idea of “gross indecency” between men, a statutory offence invented in 1885, and in an emotional and malicious way confines young people to criminal proceedings, when they may properly need care, advice or empathy. What we need in Britain are sound rational laws. So long as we tinker and “reform” present laws we gay people will perpetuate socially and legally the concept of second-class citizenship.
Scotland’s population is about 5¼ million, just half the number of people who live within an hours train journey from London. The area is vast, but because of the wild and exciting land-forms, the people are unevenly distributed and confined in the main to the Forth-Clyde valleys and on or near the East Coast. There’s a very distinctive flavour to each city. Glasgow and Edinburgh, a gentle hourly drive apart, have unmistakeable identities. Glasgow is a city of superlatives: best Victorian city in Europe, highest high rise, greatest programme of urban motorways, brilliant parklands… yet… and yet bad for gays. It’s a sort of combination of heavy industrial working-class past combined with a near dearth of intimate and varied meeting-places. The Close Theatre is a stunning exclamation mark in the heart of old Gorbals. Edinburgh: “east-windy and west-endy” about sums it up but if you’ve been to the August International Festival (or any other time) you will know that this lovely city is also a haven for Scotland’s gay community. SMG are operating a successful Saturday night coffee-food-and-dance club, and the Edinburgh Branch of the Group is now seriously engaged in the buying of central premises, inside which we can create our permanent home. Edinburgh’s size (less than ½ million) seems just right: big enough for variety, small enough for identity. Gay people relocating should give serious thought to settling in Edinburgh.
The best way to approach Dundee is at night driving northwards over the Tay Road Bridge (or take the evening train from Edinburgh!). Unfortunately, visual impact does not match up to social enjoyment, for this is a very stolid town which partly derives from a large female work force to support the Jute industry. It is a “tight” city, not at all liberated. I have never been to Aberdeen, but my friends sing the beauties of its crisp-clean granite, and worry their hearts about the social disruption (and destruction) attendant upon the North Sea oil bonanza. Inverness I know is a cheerful and smaller version of Edinburgh in many ways. Some very sensitive restoration work coupled with the delightful modern development just slightly spoiled by some loutish work in the late fifties and early 1960’s. Could be very pleasant for gays once SMG Inverness begins to grow.
I’ll wind off now! Hopefully this highly personal and patchy picture will give some idea of what Scotland is like as a place to stay.
- References: (yes, there were some)
- THE FRIEND April 28th 1972 (Marjorie Jones’ article)
- SCOTTISH INTERNATIONAL March 1972 (author’s article)
- CIVIL LIBERTY The NCCL Guide (Penguin Books, London, 1972)
SCOTTISH MINORITIES GROUP.
- EDINBURGH, from 7.45pm to 9.00pm in the basement of 23 George Square. Check with Mike Coulson at 031-225 4395. Women’s Group at 7.30pm. Saturdays from 9.30pm to 12.30pm coffee/food/dance at the same address.
- GLASGOW, meetings every Tuesday at 8.00pm at 8 Dunearn Street, Glasgow C4. Women’s Group at 184 Swinton Road, at 8.00pm. Third Friday of every month at 214 Clyde Street (library of community house) invited speakers, from 8pm.
- DUNDEE, every Friday at Dundee University Chaplaincy, Social. Details from 041-771 7600
- ABERDEEN, Weekly social meetings, Details from 041-772 7600