FOOTBALL, says Ruth Davidson, has changed "significantly" over the decades.

These days there's more of a "family-friendly atmosphere" and the stadia are "much safer". The Scottish Tory leader might be right. The question is, how would she know?

Davidson had just celebrated her second birthday when the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 received its Royal Assent. She is an enviably youthful party leader. She is also in no position to remember just what inspired part V - "Sporting Events: Control of Alcohol Etc" - of the legislation.

Labour's Jim Murphy, having hijacked Davidson's campaign to have drink once again on sale at football grounds, is in a similar position. When over 200 arrests were made amid a pitched battle during the 1980 Celtic-Rangers Scottish Cup Final at Hampden, Murphy wasn't around to witness the carnage. Back then, he was in school in South Africa, not yet 13 years old when the riot provoked a change in the law. Those bad old days were no part of his experience.

Like Davidson, he might have noticed that "a lot of things have happened since this ban was introduced in 1980". Among other notable reforms, for one example, the Act decreed that "a homosexual act in private shall not be an offence". But where booze and Scottish football are concerned, Murphy, like many demanding a bit of civilised social drinking during a match, is at a disadvantage. He has no basis for comparison. He doesn't, cannot, know what it was like.

Perhaps I can help. It was disgusting; it was vile; it was shaming. Never mind riots, brawls, or local hatreds: those were just the headlines. If a definition of the opposite of "family-friendly" is needed, it was the average crowd at an average match on an average Saturday. In those bygone days getting drunk was your best hope of tolerating the drunks who added nothing at all, beyond floods of steaming body fluids and landslips of empties, to what Murphy terms "the experience".

Still, we are assured that all is utterly different now. It is a slur on the working class to say otherwise, or to suggest that what's proposed is just a scheme to help clubs to help themselves to a little more of the working-class revenue stream. Mentioning that Scotland might have a problematic relationship with alcohol is, it seems, so 20th century. Noting that fans are more interested in safe standing, reasonable prices and better football than £5 pints in plastic tumblers is apparently to misunderstand just how much things have changed.

I wonder about that. For now, the demand from Murphy, Davidson, the clubs and the Scottish Football Association is for nothing more than a pilot scheme. The Labour leader, for one, has been quick to say that alcohol would still be unavailable at certain "contentious" fixtures. But why's that? Surely Murphy isn't admitting there are still groups of working-class fans who cannot be trusted in the vicinity of a beverage?

Besides, if things have changed, as Davidson argues, and if you would no longer fear to expose your elderly aunt to the Scottish game, why the insistence that booze should be provided only by the clubs? Surely if the desire is to show that the contemporary fan is capable of responsible drinking, he and she should be allowed to bring their own bottles and cans, as was once traditional? What could possibly go wrong?

I'm kidding. For Davidson, as for Murphy, the 21st-century fan would still need tight controls: drinks before the game and at half-time, but not while a match is in progress, and not - much as in England - within sight of the field of play. A cocktail at your seat is not envisaged. The risk of spending money with anyone other than "cash-strapped clubs", as the Tory leader calls them, is no part of the proposal.

Davidson first stood up for the drinking classes in September 2013, long before Murphy decided to make a campaign priority of the matter. The Tories chose to consult Scotland's 42 senior clubs before they thought to elicit opinions from fans. To no-one's surprise, 85 per cent of our cherished institutions were in favour of offering more than over-priced pies and over-priced Bovril. If you can drink at a pop concert, we are asked, why not at a game?

Why not indeed? The three-word answer from Police Scotland, with plenty of evidence to back it up, is law and order. If things have changed why was a 10-year-old hit in the face with a bottle on his way to the Old Firm game this month? Why were 56 people reported to the Crown Office for "football-related offences" after the match? You might dismiss perennial problems between two Glasgow clubs as exceptions to the family-friendly rule. That doesn't make them insignificant.

Handing out leaflets at grounds in the west of Scotland, Murphy asks plaintively why fans at Murrayfield should be allowed a drink while football supporters are deprived. He detects a class prejudice. Perhaps he understands those No-voting rugby types better than most. But his excursion into synthetic class politics ignores history. The simple fact, for whatever reason, is that rugby very rarely witnesses trouble. Football can't make that claim.

Yes, of course: a minority. It was ever thus. The 200 or so arrests at Hampden in 1980 came from an audience of over 70,000. The majority long ago grew sick of guilt by association, of being treated as prole cattle and provoked into living out stereotypes by clubs, cops and politicians. If Scotland's Tartan Army can become the football world's cuddly (up to a point) comic mascots, peaceably drinking towns dry the world over, why stigmatise every fan?

Because trouble persists. The Rangers fans who laid waste Manchester on the day of the 2008 Uefa Cup Final were not figures from old legend. True, supporters inside the ground caused no trouble. Granted, Greater Manchester Police behaved badly. It's probably the case, in fact, that the violence that turned a city into a war zone was the responsibility of no more than a few hundred thugs. But this was serious civil disorder and it happened just seven years ago.

Some who see no point in a ban, academics among them, make the point that you cannot impose sobriety. People who want to get drunk and watch football will get their booze regardless. Unless the authorities are prepared to shut every pub and off-sales shop in a town - an experiment attempted once or twice in Europe - some fans will get tanked up before the game, far from stewards and police, and continue after the whistle goes.

This is true, of course. But then, it was always true. The sole difference between the pre-1980 rituals and today is that once upon a time the boozing was ceaseless, from noon (at least) until last orders. Is that what proponents of match-day drinking have in mind? And do they also suggest that no fan should be asked to manage a couple of hours without a beer? If that's the case, it makes "civilised" sound like a nebulous concept.

Alcohol-related deaths in Scotland have fallen by 34 per cent in a decade, but the rate is still the worst in Britain. The drink-driving limit is the lowest in the UK, but Scottish consumption still outstrips the competition. ScotRail forbids its passengers to drink between 9pm and 10am specifically to combat "anti-social behaviour". Does anyone believe even modest social drinking at football grounds would have no impact on these efforts?

Scotland has spent decades struggling with its drink problem. Much time, energy, money and argument has gone into health education, legislation, and the kind of municipal controls employed in Glasgow. A few beers at a game might seem, if you like, a drop in the ocean, but the rationale is dubious. A Scot is never stuck for an opportunity to drink. So what justifies a couple of opportunistic politicians, and clubs eager for revenue, in declaring a pre-match happy hour?

One argument holds that the behaviour of some fans is a reaction to the way all fans are treated. I can sympathise. Given the way clubs, police and stewards conduct themselves at certain grounds, it can be hard to remember just who is the paying customer. From that fact flows a comforting counter-argument: treat supporters as responsible grown-ups and they will behave like grown-ups.

Once again, you might have to be older than Davidson or the teetotal Murphy before you believe that legislative reform alone will turn us into a nation of civilised drinkers. Such was the promise made with the 1976 Licensing Act, when the old 10pm stampede was ended and the lieges were granted leave to drink freely in the afternoons and - imagine - on a Sunday. Apparently we were all supposed to adopt cafe society habits. How did that work out?

Altering Scottish attitudes to alcohol is slow work. It's not helped by the fact that football, nationally and internationally, has never seen a booze sponsor it didn't like. Alcohol Focus Scotland reports that 55% of children associate Carling with football. When researchers at Newcastle University looked at six English football broadcasts in 2012 they found over 2000 "visual references" to alcohol, 32 mentions of booze company sponsors, and 17 adverts for drink during the matches.

On a bigger stage, Fifa not only celebrates its "partnership" with the makers of Budweiser, it acts as a sales rep. Brazil banned alcohol sales in football grounds in 2003 in the name of public safety, yet was forced by the world governing body to allow beer to be sold during last year's World Cup. Russia, next stop for the circus in 2018, also forbids the sale of drink in and around stadia. The Russians are already under Fifa pressure to make an exception for "Bud".

The alcohol industry loves football. Fans around the world, good or bad, are not averse to a drink. If you believe adverts full of happy, shiny people, that "family-friendly atmosphere" is thereby guaranteed. Unless, of course, you happen to be a real family suffering the kind of domestic violence that is - once again, a small minority - a too-familiar part of the football "experience".

Researchers will tell you causes are "complex". For one thing, those guilty of abuse would probably be guilty if football didn't exist. But correlations are now too numerous: reports of domestic abuse increase when certain matches are played. Since alcohol also has its well-established role in domestic violence, it isn't hard to understand why women's organisations oppose a lifting of the ban so vehemently.

First, researchers at St Andrews discovered solid evidence of a link between domestic violence and Old Firm games. Then, last November, the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research produced a report commissioned by the Scottish Government. That work, carried out by Glasgow University and Glasgow Caledonian, also found an increase in domestic violence on match days.

So what's a bit of civilised drinking worth? Just when Scotland is beginning to crawl from the wreckage of its relationship with booze a couple of politicians go trawling for easy votes. At best, the ending of the ban might not do huge harm. Against that, you can guarantee that it will not do the slightest bit of good for anyone save those "cash-strapped" clubs. The fans themselves, in whose name all of this is proposed, do not seem enthused.

As The Herald reported last week, a test awaits licensing boards if Davidson and Murphy succeed. In some areas, such as Glasgow and Dundee, boards apply an "over-provision" criterion and refuse licences in areas deemed to be "saturated" with bars. Parkhead and Ibrox, to name two, lie within such zones. As things stand, Celtic and Rangers should be disqualified from the social drinking game.

The rest of us can meanwhile wonder what "saturated" really means for an area, a city, a sport and a country.