Leaders: Time to lay dour Scot to rest as happiness happens
OLD stereotypes die hard, but it may be time to consign the image of the dour and miserable Scot to the scrap-yard of defunct national characteristics.
Or so the UK government’s official index of happiness seems to suggest. It has concluded that the Scots are among the most contented people on these islands, giving the lie to an archetype in popular culture that goes back at least to the time of PG Wodehouse, who pointed out that it isn’t difficult to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.
We Scots have, it has to be said, often colluded in the national image of dour grimness. For many years the defining moment of the definitive Scottish celebration – Hogmanay – was always the TV broadcast of a message from the Rev I M Jolly, with his joyless world view, as expertly conveyed by Rikki Fulton. We laughed at the joke, but also perhaps conceded there was a grain of truth in the humour.
Now, it seems, we may have been selling ourselves short. Looking at the study published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics it is not difficult to discern why Scots might fare well in such an exercise.
Take one simple criterion – transport. Speak to people in the south-east of England about the least bearable aspects of their life and many will lament the hours they spend commuting to and from work, often from dormitory towns and into London. Most Scots commute to work in a fraction of the time it takes the average metropolitan English person. Also, we live in a beautiful country where every urban office drone is only an hour away from a loch, a beach, a hill or a glen – or all four. That must count for something.
What is remarkable is how Scots seem to have bucked some of the assumptions of the study – that people are happier if they are healthier, for example (Scots are not famed for their healthy lifestyles); or that home ownership also makes you more likely to be happy (Scotland has fewer owner-occupiers than many other parts of the UK). Which begs the question: what is the core reason for Scots’ happiness?
Could the answer be political? Could it be that, 13 years after the creation of a Scottish Parliament, and after two Nationalist victories at Holyrood, there is a certain cultural self-confidence about Scotland that translates at an individual level into healthy personal self-esteem?
Whatever the answer, credit must go to David Cameron who, when he first announced his intention to calculate a national index of happiness, was roundly ridiculed. The criticism was misplaced and unfair. At a time when government is an endless string of tough choices, why shouldn’t ministers have a better understanding of what constitutes contentment, all the better to tailor priorities to maximise this for as many people as possible? The challenge, of course, is how the government will now attempt to do that. Regardless, we are happy they are making the effort.
Archbishop’s views open to question
No sooner has the new Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, been confirmed in his role, than he has immediately run into the kind of political storm that he will soon realise comes with the territory. A video has emerged of him discussing gay lifestyles, in which he appears to draw a connection between the tragic death of Labour politician David Cairns – himself a former Catholic priest – and the homosexuality the MP openly acknowledged.
Clerics of all faiths are entitled to their views on sexuality and indeed any other issue. On matters as diverse as gay marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples they are entitled to make those views known, and they are entitled to a hearing. But these are matters of opinion. Bishop Tartaglia seems to have strayed into an area of highly disputatious fact.
Is the bishop really saying that there is a connection between being gay and early, sudden death? Does the bishop have any evidence of his apparent belief that homosexuality can lead someone’s body to simply “shut down”, as he seems to be saying to his small but attentive audience at Magdalene College, Oxford? If so, can he please reveal this evidence, because it is an extraordinary assertion.
It is understandable that within a religious context, issues of sexuality can lead to the expression of strong views. But this is a fraught enough area without vague assertions that seem to be making some kind of vaguely factual claim about people of a particular sexual preference.
The open debate Scotland is trying to have about sexuality requires a more rigorous form of engagement than this.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West