Continuing my history binge, I have now finished reading Professors T.C. Smout’s A Century of the Scottish People 1830 – 1950 (first published 1986).
Historians are always erudite, sometime objective and occasionally partial, but Professor Smout has another quality, a deep and compassionate humanity, a much rarer commodity among historians.
Some historians excite my admiration for their broad perspective and scholarship (Andrew Davies, Tom Devine), some make my gorge rise (Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts, David Starkey) but Professor Smout makes me feel like a member of the human race, part of the continuity and wonder of homo sapiens: he illuminates the human condition.
One extract that struck me as saying something about Scotland now, seen through the prism of the past -
Scotland appeared to her critics a land peculiarly steeped in drink. John Dunlop, Greenock magistrate and temperance reformer, described a world in which the middle classes vied with the working classes to create occasions for another glass. Chapter VI, page 133.
We might, in 2010, speculate that John Dunlop might observe that the middle classes – and their elected opposition MSPs in the Scottish Parliament – vied with the booze peddlers to keep Scotland and all classes in it, but especially the young and the poor, “peculiarly steeped in drink”, by opposing the one measure - proposed by the Scottish SNP Government - for reducing this evil that had the approval of the medical profession, the police, addiction agencies and the churches, namely, minimum pricing for alcohol.