Back in 1995, the Scottish Review
was a paper journal founded and edited by the remarkable journalist and broadcaster, Kenneth Roy. I had found it interesting, especially his own investigative articles. I read it regularly, but one day he really annoyed me. His article related to cigarette smoking and action being taken to educate the public on its dangers, and in it he referred to public health fascists. I assumed he was a smoker himself, perhaps trying unsuccessfully to stop, but clearly he had a bee in his bunnet.
This was an issue on which I had campaigned and I wrote a long and intemperate criticism of him, reminding him that some of us knew what real fascists were. To my surprise, I received a polite reply thanking me for my essay and telling me he would be delighted to publish it. I thanked him and offered to tone it down, but he told me that it was fine as it was and it duly appeared under the title Confessions of a health fascist
I too get bees in my bunnet and all my professional life I have been in the habit of quieting the buzz by writing about it, but few professional journals print such outbursts. Here, perhaps, lay an opportunity for an amateur writer such as myself. There were still two medical journals that took my short essays but writing for a more general public appealed, so I sent a few more articles to the Scottish Review
and they were accepted without quibble. I had retired from my job but had continued to lecture to medical undergraduates on environmental issues, and had become increasingly concerned about climate change, at a time when the general public had little appreciation of the issues, so in 2011 I wrote what I consider my most important articles, Climate change: a sceptic's guide
(SR, September 2011), followed by one on what we need to do about it, How do we face this tide in the affairs of men?
(SR, December 2011). The first attracted virulent criticism from a sceptic, strangely the only time I have received this following publication of an article. Obviously, readers of the Scottish Review
are generally nice people.
By 2011, the Scottish Review
had become an online journal [first going online in 2008] and I was writing an article roughly monthly, the ever-interesting and stimulating Kenneth Roy maintaining his role as both editor and main writer. His two books at that point, Travels in a Small Country
and Conversations in a Small Country
, give a flavour of his journalism. His major works, The Invisible Spirit: A Life of Post-War Scotland
and The Broken Journey: A Life of Scotland 1976-99,
were to appear soon after and remain essential reading for anyone interested in the history of our times.
Sadly, in October 2018 he announced that he was dying but continued writing, now in his final weeks, to produce the poignant In Case of Any News: A Diary of Living and Dying
. His final regret was that, at 49,000 words, he had not reached his target of 50,000. It is the best book I have read on the subject of death. His legacy is the Young Scotland Programme that he had launched to encourage Scottish youth to express themselves; it has now expanded into a programme for the whole UK.
Nobly, his brilliant colleague Islay McLeod took over and has until today edited the Scottish Review
. In 2020, we were all challenged by Covid-19 and the magazine became a lifeline for many readers, isolated in their houses. No less so was it a lifeline for me, as I knew from before it arrived that octogenarians like me and my wife were Covid's chief target, along with our friends and colleagues working in the NHS, among whom was one of my sons on the front line as an infectious disease specialist. With his help and advice, at Islay's request I embarked on a weekly series of articles commenting on the pandemic and its implications, a series that I know from my correspondence was of help to many in understanding what was going on.
As the pandemic changed into its predicted endemic state, I returned to writing on more general environmental issues, recalling an early article, The four horsemen and our selfish little tribes
(SR, October 2014). This biblical revelation attributed to St John the Divine has been in my mind since childhood, the modern existential (a word not to be used unthinkingly) threats it poses being climate change, warfare, infection and inequity. I have always thought that St John was on to something in distilling the multiple ills affecting humanity into four simply understood threats. It fits so neatly with modern concepts of evolution and of the development of life on Earth. And the awful realisation came to me that what I had been teaching to medical students for over 40 years as largely avoidable threats to humanity and the natural world were clearly happening in my lifetime.
This is what has motivated me to write for the Scottish Review
and is behind most of my articles, notably the series of 50 or 60 I wrote through the pandemic and leading up to the COP26 conference. I hope they have proved informative, possibly helpful to understanding, and occasionally diverting. I am so grateful to Islay and the Scottish Review
for providing me with a platform and I am profoundly sorry it is going, not least because I greatly admire the work of my fellow contributors (none of whom I have actually met) and shall miss their articles. Thank you to Islay, Scottish Review
and, especially, you my tolerant readers. Now, what can I do... a bit more housework? Oh dear, oh dear!
Anthony Seaton is Emeritus Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Aberdeen University and Senior Consultant to the Edinburgh Institute of Occupational Medicine. The views expressed are his own