A young fan in a kilt gets to meet Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison when the Beatles came to the ABC cinema in Edinburgh in 1964

Between rock and a hard place: what Scottish life was like in the 1960s

The 1960s were a time of great change across the world, an era of rebellion and cultural shift in society – even in Scotland.

By Ilona Amos
Saturday, 5th September 2020, 7:30 am

People everywhere, particularly the younger generation, began railing against mainstream values. They stood up for their beliefs and individuality, protesting to get their voices heard on issues from nuclear weapons and war to civil rights and liberation for women.

The rebellious mood and social changes were reflected across politics, music, fashion and leisure.

Young Scots were rocking and rolling with youths everywhere to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and home-grown songstress Lulu, while a folk revival saw Scottish acts like the Corries, Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, Jean Redpath and the Humblebums – a duo featuring Billy Connolly – gain huge followings.

In March 1960 fans welcomed a surprise visit from the King himself, who touched down at Prestwick airport in Ayrshire while flying back to the US after completing military service in Germany. It was the only time Elvis Presley ever set foot on British soil.

The Fab Four performed in Scotland 22 times between 1962 and 1965, including a ‘flop’ gig in Dingwall where they played to a crowd of just 19 – many of whom walked out before the end.

The decade also witnessed major medical and technological advancements, including the first ever heart transplant, the maiden supersonic flight of Concorde and the earliest incarnation of the internet.

It culminated in the“giant leap for mankind” in 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.

Innovations also drastically changed how people spent their leisure time.

By the 1960s nearly every household had electricity and with that came ‘mod cons’ such as fridges, cookers and washing machines, freeing up women from some of their traditional domestic responsibilities.

The mini skirt, designed to allow the wearer freedom to “run and jump”, became the icon of 1960s fashion and was enthusiastically adopted by Scottish women.

Scooters became a popular way of getting about and were the only way to travel for any self-respecting Mod.

The invention of colour television, pocket radios and audio cassettes allowed people to spend more of their free time listening to music and watching telly.

Meanwhile, children begged their parents for the latest toys, with Sindy and Action Man dolls, Skalextric, Spirograph and Etch-a-Sketch becoming hot favourites.

At the same time Scotland was in the grip of a housing crisis, with countless people living in dreadful poverty and slum conditions in dilapidated tenement blocks.

The creation of ‘cities in the sky’ was seen as a solution, prompting a high-rise building boom that would ultimately lead to bigger problems.

Sparked by high unemployment, shipyard closures and the demise of traditional industries, Scotland experienced a renewed interest in independence which in 1967 saw the nationalists win a seat in Westminster for the first time since 1945.

The Tories of the time were so concerned that leader Edward Heath committed the party to some form of Scottish separation in a statement known as the Declaration of Perth in March 1968, becoming the first mainstream UK political party to propose the creation of a devolved Scottish assembly. But it was a pledge they were never forced to honour.

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