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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 30/08/2006

In case you missed it, there was a really interesting open letter in this Sunday’s Sunday Herald. It was written by Cecile Shea, the outgoing American Consul General. In it she listed all the great things about Scotland and more than gave us credit for our huge contribution to the world. However, the purpose of her letter was to point out that the thing she hated about Scotland is "The way you constantly beat yourselves up". Various Scots were asked to comment and Professor Tom Devine, a frequent commentator on Scotland, admitted the following: "There seems to be, for reasons, I don’t quite understand, a melancholic attitude among public commentators and the media, with relatively few exceptions." He then goes on to say that this is just confined to the media and ‘vocal elements’ in Scotland but somehow this ‘negative perspective’ is not true of the Scottish people at large.

I have had various good-humoured arguments with Tom Devine about this over the years and I just don’t understand why he is so blinkered. His argument is that Scotland has gone through a cultural transformation: a new economy with different types of employment, a renaissance in the arts and a new parliament. He argues that this wouldn’t have been possible with a problem with confidence. My argument is that much more could have been achieved in Scotland if we could shift some of our negativity, pessimism and cannae dae attitudes. Also as Tom himself argues the changes he cites in the economy came about as a result of Thatcherism, imposed from London, not from local leadership or new thinking here. People have adapted to the changes but they haven’t exactly initiated them. Scotland’s rates of entrepreneurship, for example, are not terrible but they certainly aren’t impressive.

I told Willie Haughey, an extremely successful Glasgow businessman about the argument between Tom and myself when we were travelling together up to Inverness. I asked him what he thought and he said unequivocally that there was a big issue about confidence and negativity in Scottish life – not just in the media but in the people he takes on to work with him. That is why he has to spend so much money on retraining and confidence boosting exercises. I've had countless other conversations with employers in a similar vein.

Scotland is a great country in many ways. We do have so much to be proud of and positive about. But, as the vast majority of people who come to Scotland from outside will tell you, we have a strong tendency to be negative and critical of ourselves and others. Pessimism is rife. I’ve little doubt this negativity shows up in our high suicide and alcohol figures and in the high use of anti-depressants. The media in Scotland have a part to play in disseminating a negative, pessimistic commentary on Scotland but negativity runs much deeper than that. This admission doesn’t mean that I think we are useless, hopeless folk with a rotten wee Parliament and no chance of making things better. Nor does it mean that we’ve got a terrible economy and that we can never get things right. But I do think we are quick to criticise and blame others for mistakes and failings and that facing up to these characteristics would be one useful step towards change.

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