Scottish sex scandals throughout history
Scotland has had its fair share of cases involving illegal carnal pleasures
History may be written by the victors but we all know the interesting stuff, the sex scandals, are chronicled by salacious gossips and gifted storytellers. From the blood red sauce of the Jacobean tragedies to the tabloid game, set and match of the Tommy Sheridan story, the public interest in any Scottish sex scandal lies in the details. Like the question of what lies beneath a Scotsman’s kilt, the public wants to know: how naked are the genitals? How shrunken by the northern breeze are they? And how chafed by pride and action (or lack of it) are they?
In many ways modern Scotland is a nation built on sex scandals big and small, from the alleged satanic orgies of ancient Scottish King Kenneth McAlpine to Mary Queen of Scots’ messy extramarital fling with James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell, to the filthier poems of that sex addict Robert Burns. This particular timeline of Scottish sexual awareness begins with the period of the Scottish Enlightenment. In early 18th century Scotland, the Stuart kings were gone, Scottish independence was lost and English-imposed excise duties were crippling the economy. Protest was inevitable and in Fife it took a unique form – private sex clubs.
This erotic revolt started in Anstruther with gentleman’s club, Beggar’s Benison, devoted to the celebration of free sex, smuggling and subversion of the Jacobite cause. Named after a verbal blessing given to the notoriously promiscuous King James V, the club opened its doors to all the displaced lairds and merchants. Drunken, ribald, sexually ambivalent toasts were drunk from phallus-shaped goblets, passages were read from the erotic classics, including The Song of Solomon, Byron’s Don Juan and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill and there were masked dancing girls. Initiation to the club involved tip-to-tip masturbation among other things. In fact the members of the club viewed this perennial pastime as a bold act of defiance (in a climate of moral panic about masturbation) against a London that had imposed a new dynasty, union and customs duties on Scotland.
The Beggar’s Benison may have been a Rotarian-style protest in search of a scandal, but the 200-odd brothels of Victorian Edinburgh incited genuine hysteria. The city’s High Street thronged with sixpenny whores, while St James Square and Leith Street housed a number of labyrinthine underground shebeens. These were the bête noir of so-called respectable society. And there was none more respectable than Treasure Island and Jekyll and Hyde writer Robert Louis Stevenson’s uncle David. He was a key member of the Scottish National Association for the Suppression of Licentiousness, a campaign against all vice, which included the banning of nude models at the city’s art school. Little did he know that his frail nephew liked nothing more than spending his prim father’s modest allowance on all the carnal pleasures available in the capital’s sex parlours.
Moving forward a century or so, David Anderson, a junior Scottish Office minister, was in 1973 convicted and fined £50 for stopping two 14-year-old girls and asking them to fulfill an S&M fantasy by walking over his naked body. This conviction, held up as a miscarriage of justice by Robin Cook and Malcolm Rifkind, became what the Scottish tabloid press dubbed ‘the Scottish Profumo Affair’. But it was only many years later that the final piece of the puzzle of this story fell into place. Anderson protested his innocence until his death in 1995. In 2010 Lady Judy Steel, wife of liberal leader Lord David Steel, went to the theatre to see John Hale’s largely sympathetic play The Case of David Anderson QC starring the mighty Corin Redgrave as Anderson. Not far into the play Lady Steel realised she recognised some of the dialogue from an incident in 1959, when, as an Edinburgh University fresher, she had been beckoned over to a man’s car near Edinburgh’s George Square and asked if she would stamp on him in stilettos. The play inspired her to retrospectively identify the man as Anderson.
And finally there’s the case of the gardener, three nuns and a dog, or one particularly naughty scene from French erotic silent film Polissons et Galipette (The Good Old Naughty Days) which Edinburgh’s Filmhouse attempted to screen for ‘historical interest’ back in 2004. A storm in a teacup was whipped up by the Evening News, which debated whether the council should allow such filth to be screened, with particular reference to one key scene in which a dog willingly sucks off a priest. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, various Edinburgh reverends and Scottish Women Against Pornography all weighed in. Dog blow-jobs aside, for a modern audience the film was only mildly titillating, and evidence now suggests that the furore was all to the benefit of Hamish McAlpine, the owner of the now defunct Tartan Films, who planned to reissue the films on DVD in the UK (though this never actually came to fruition).
There are more stories in the canon – tales of sexualised feline impersonations, of hot flushes and fainting fits – but they are for another day. With his penchant for alternative sex, Tommy Sheridan may be less atypical than we think, maybe he is just a man, a Scottish man.