Oh glower of Scotland? Not any more as Scots now seen as happier than the English

SCOTLAND'S image as a country inhabited by dour pessimists struggling under the yoke of Calvinism has been harmed by research revealing that the Scots have become cheerier than the English.

• 2007: A surge in Scottish happiness when James McFadden scored the winning goal in a historic football win over France

As David Cameron launched a 2 million scheme to measure happiness across the UK, academics in Scotland released their own study, which shows that Scots are now more optimistic than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The work shatters the myth of the miserable Scot peddled by the likes of PG Wodehouse, who once wrote that "it is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine".

On the day that the Prime Minister spoke of the importance of finding out Britain's "well-being" to help the people attain "the good life", it emerged that Scots are surging ahead in the happiness stakes.

Using similar methodology to that which will form the basis of Mr Cameron's new scheme, Professor David Bell of Stirling University discovered that over the past ten years Scots have overtaken the English and Welsh when it comes to well-being.

Historically, measurements of happiness have suggested that Scots are by nature more pessimistic than those living in England and Wales.

But during the devolution decade, Scots have become more upbeat and are now surging ahead in terms of happiness.

Academics can measure the happiness of a nation using an Average Subjective Well-being Score. To determine a person's position on the scale, those participating in happiness studies are asked "How dissatisfied or satisfied are you with your life overall?"

They answer on a scale from one to seven, where one is extremely unhappy and seven is very happy.

• Analysis: Measuring well-being is one thing, increasing it is another

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Professor Bell's work involved surveying 2,500 Scots and comparing their answers with those from the rest of the UK. His results showed that in 1998, Scotland recorded 4.57 on the happiness scale, just behind Wales (4.58) and some way behind England, which recorded 4.7.

The year 2003 saw a gloomier outlook, with Scotland falling to 3.98 but by 2008 Scotland had overtaken its rivals climbing to 4.85 compared with 4.72 for England and 4.81 for Wales.

"We have seen a rise in optimism in Scotland relative to the rest of the UK," Prof Bell said yesterday. "I'm not sure why that might be and it is tough to speculate, but that measurement was taken at a time when the economy was doing quite well. But more work needs to be done to discover why we have seen this."Mr Cameron believes that measuring happiness is an important way of gauging a country's progress that does not rely solely on economic indicators.

The Prime Minister announced that the Office for National Statistics has been asked to devise measures of progress and will lead a public debate about what matters most to people in their lives.

The Prime Minister said looking at happiness was important to gain a picture "of how life is improving" to inform ministers in drawing up policy.

"From April next year we will start measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving, not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life," Mr Cameron said in a speech at the Treasury.

He said ministers need to take a broader perspective, suggesting that "prosperity alone" cannot deliver happiness. "We'll continue to measure GDP as we've always done," Mr Cameron said before quoting the former US senator Robert Kennedy, who said GDP "measures everything … except that which makes life worthwhile".

Addressing what he called "the suspicion that all this is a bit airy-fairy and impractical", he recognised that it was impossible to "capture happiness on a spread-sheet".

"But that isn't what this is about," he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The new breed of Scot will be hopeful that the work commissioned by Mr Cameron will back up Prof Bell's findings.

But Prof Bell was quick to remind The Scotsman that his research had been carried out before the worst of the economic crisis. "This research just predates the recession," Prof Bell said. "So things might have changed again since then."

His words will offer comfort to Scots of a traditional nature: those pessimists who are never happier than when observing clouds eclipsing silver linings.