Post War Living & The Welfare State

In the post-war recovery period of the 1950's huge changes began taking place in south west Scotland as in the rest of the UK. Social and political changes, such as the creation of the welfare state (1947) led to individual freedoms that had hitherto, never been experienced before. Also the Race Relations Act of 1966, Divorce Reform Act of 1969 and the Equal Pay Act of 1970, offered people massive liberation from the restraints of the past and the chance of a comfortable life that their parents had never known. People were healthier, in a lot of cases richer, better educated and had more free time largely due to modern energy saving devices in the home. Women were one of the main groups to benefit, the pill meant that they could choose whether to have a family or not, and if so, the size of their family and at what point in their life they wanted children. It meant that they could now work on a career, rather than being coconsigned to becoming mothers, dependant on their husbands.

People now had the power (and the time) to demonstrate their points of view, not just to their families and social group, but to their government. By 1968 this disaffection had even spread to several universities within Scotland. The students felt that universities and schools were preparing them for life in a by-gone era and that overly bureaucratic educational institutions had 'lost touch' with both their students and modern society in general. 

The sixties also began to hear women's voices within the previously male bastions of scientific research and industry. Women had in the past been given subordinate roles, mostly clerical, as working had largely been regarded as a stopgap for them until they became wives and mothers when it was traditionally expected that they would then stay to look after the family home. 

Counter Culture 

In the 1960's, young people also began to question cultural and political norms. Looking for 'something better', they used music, fashion, politics, protests and religions outside the Christian tradition to demonstrate their vision of a different, utopian, society. This counter-culture (culture in this case meaning the traditions, values, expectations and attitudes prevalent within mainstream society) rose not only from a matter of 'dropping out' and looking at the world differently from their parents, but from a sense of communal spirit. Gathering at rock concerts and protests, young people (many middle-class) felt empowered by their numbers. This shift in youth culture was slow to catch on in many parts of Scotland outside of the college campuses of the cities, (many with traditional views saw students attending places like Glasgow School of Art as subversive and outrageous), but there was a small mimicking of the Brighton Mod and Rocker rallies in the seaside towns of the south west such as Ayr and Girvan. It is entirely possible however that in the mining villages of the Irvine Valley and the housing estates of larger towns in the area that these changes were hardly noticeable at first, as children continued to follow their parents routines and professions. 

Sixties, counter culture began as a backlash against oppressive mainstream values, such as, a rigid social hierarchy, subordination of women (and children), repressed attitudes towards sex, respect for authority, and the growth of consumerism and institutionalised racism. This alternative attitude affected, for the most part, people whose opinions within society had not been considered in the past to be of great importance: the youth, women, ethnic and religious minorities etc. Individual expression amongst these groups was now encouraged, applauded and nurtured in some quarters whilst many in the region still remained very traditional in their views. 

The 1960's were a period of exceptional cultural and social change. It is possible to argue that there had never been such a massive shift in popular cultural values prior to the sixties. Certainly, no generation had had the room for personal expression to such a degree before. The generation (in the UK), growing up in the sixties were the first to grow up within the welfare state, making them a healthier generation than the one who preceded them and who had known the hardships faced during the second world war. The pill had allowed women more freedom in their lives and had allowed children to enjoy being children, instead of having to become wage earners to help support large families. Household appliances shortened the time spent on chores, leaving more free time. University grants allowed more young people to access further learning and stimulated their interest in politics. More families had television allowing people to be influenced by the wider world, the war in Vietnam, and the spectacle of the momentous events unfolding in space exploration. Social mobility meant that fewer people were staying at home, following career paths of parents. Suddenly, what you wore, and what you listened to defined who you were. Fear too, played its part. The cold war's arms race gave rise to the growing anxiety of nuclear annihilation and the realisation that suddenly, the world, as they knew it, could be destroyed in an instant. All these things contributed to a growing sense of revolution or counter-culture and meant that life would never go back to what had gone before; things had changed forever. 

Greater social tolerance during the sixties led to changes in attitudes about gender roles, ethnic groups etc., however many of the old prejudices remained within society. Also, every generation since the sixties has tried to define their individual identity within 'youth-culture'. The individuality of expression that made the sixties 'swinging' has now become the norm. The very ideas championed by the 'peace and love' generation were challenged by their own children, and new counter-cultures, such as the anarchic punk explosion of the late seventies and early eighties, swept them aside as 'mainstream'. 

The tremendous changes experienced during the sixties were more a product of political reform, new legislative safety nets, fairer wealth distribution, better education and the increased leisure time created by the boom in labour saving household appliances, rather than the romantic notion that a spontaneous Cultural Revolution took place as a result of an idealistic awakening. After all, despite many of the subjects debated being new, arguments calling for free speech and personal freedom go back to the foundations of democratic society. 

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