Falling education standards, poor economic performance and low life expectancy have seen Scotland slump to 20th place in a global table of wellbeing.
The Index of Social and Economic Wellbeing ranked Switzerland, Norway and the USA as the top performing countries out of the 32 considered in the report.
This fall was due to a worsening education performance, exacerbated by falling income levels associated with the decline in North Sea related activity.John McLaren, economist
Scotland, however, fell from 16th place in 2006, to 20th a decade later, as one of only five countries to experience a fall in their overall index scores.
England, meanwhile, maintained its position of 12th, two places above the UK as a whole; while Wales and Northern Ireland also suffered a drop due to worsening education standards and poor GDP, falling to 24th and 28th place respectively.
Opposition politicians said that the report pointed to failings on the part of the SNP government, but its author, Scots economist John McLaren, said that “that greater political devolution alone does not necessarily equate to improvement” and called for “more informed” policy choices.
In the 2006 measure, Scotland had a score of 2.13. However, that score fell to 1.98 by 2016, just ahead of Slovenia in 21st place.
Hungary was at the bottom of the table, with Greece ranked second worst, due to its weak economic performance.
McLaren, who compiled the index from OECD data, said: “In the case of Scotland this fall was due to a worsening education performance, exacerbated by falling income levels associated with the decline in North Sea related activity. Furthermore, Scotland’s very poor life expectancy performance failed to improve, in relative terms, over the decade.”
The index is the only one of its kind which includes all four countries which make up the UK.
Neither the overall results nor the discussion above should be interpreted as an argument against devolution, rather it highlights that greater political devolution alone does not necessarily equate to improvement in these areas. It is more informed policy choices stemming from such devolution that would bring about such improvement. Currently, for whatever reason(s), this does not appear to be happening.”
McLaren added: “While the ‘Glasgow (or Scotland) Effect’ is well known little progress seems to be being made in dissipating it. This is despite the best efforts of of successive devolved governments, whether with regards to curtailing cigarette and alcohol consumption or even ‘Right to Roam’. This brings up the question over the efficacy of ‘punishment policies’ over alternative strategies.”
McLaren said that the biggest rises in overall Index scores across the decade were seen in Eastern European countries, but while they were improving from a low base, aspects such as life expectancy were not improving significantly in Scotland.
He called for a wellbeing index to be published every quarter to ensure that the issues are highlighted regularly and said that lessons should be learned from Estonia, which saw a significant jump in life expectancy over the decade.
He said: “If it was published every quarter like GDP, then it would be given much more significance and issues such as our low life expectancy would be much higher up the pecking order in Scotland.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: “The evidence here could hardly be more stark. After a decade of SNP control, Scotland has tumbled down global measures of social and economic wellbeing.”
He added: “Nicola Sturgeon cannot turn her fire on anyone else for this; the experts are clear that these matters are for the Scottish Government of the day to address.
“People will wonder what more evidence the First Minister needs to persuade her to get back to the day job.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Devolution has been overwhelmingly positive for Scotland – and statistics show that over the last decade people are living and remaining healthier for longer, inequality has shrunk, the gender pay gap has fallen, more young people are attending university and crime has fallen to a 42-year low.
“In addition, recent economic data shows Scotland’s growth figure outstripping the UK’s, employment is at a record high, and we remain one of the leading destinations in the UK for overseas direct investment – all of which is being put at risk by the UK Government’s extreme Brexit plans.”