SWITZERLAND has become the country to watch.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), it'll be the best place in the world to be born in, in 2013.
This grand claim is based on a quality-of-life index that links happiness with wealth, health and trust in public institutions. Yes, we Scots have heard of such phenomena. The stuff of fairy tales surely?
Coming after Switzerland are Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, and so on until you come to position 27, occupied by England and the Other Bits, or the UK as it's officially known. Result. Of sorts. It might be hard cheese that we're not as good as Switzerland, but there are 80 countries considered in all, with Nigeria coming bottom and Kenya, Ukraine, Bangladesh and Angola not far behind. According to some people in Scotland, this is where we'd languish upon independence. I see.
It'll come as no surprise to those who see through the smoke that small countries dominate the top 10 positions. None of the largest European countries – Germany, France and Britain – does particularly well. Nor do Russia, China or India.
Still, there's always a whiff of artificiality about such surveys, not least occasioned by the subjective element of happiness, based on folk's own answers. In Britainshire, backward rural areas often come out on top of "national" surveys simply because the inhabitants are incapable of self-criticism and everyone is a press officer for their community. The Swiss don't have that excuse, with more than 70% of the population urbanised and sophisticated. Even so, they must have some national pride – admittedly a suspect feeling – and probably wouldn't ask for their national flag to be removed from public vehicles, as recently happened to the Saltire in Aberdeen.
At the same time, perhaps it's pure coincidence that Switzerland has the most wealth per adult in the world. And they say money can't bring you happiness.
But there must be more to life than dosh, and the EIU does indeed take into account a total of 11 indicators, including geography, personal physical security, climate, and gender equality between men and burdz. Climate, alas, did little for Greece, Portugal and Spain overall.
Geography surprised me, as Switzerland is landlocked, a situation that seems unenviable. Who would be far from the free, salty sea? I haven't been to many countries but count the Czech Republic the most sinister I've seen. I've always blamed this on its distance from the sea, though it's fair to say I didn't like the chips either.
What else has Switzerland got going for it? Well, it's keen on cantons, having 26 of these, from Schaffhausen through Graubunden to Appenzell Ausserhoden. I mention these purely for the poetry. Unlike some countries, they're not frightened of referendums either. They're not in the controversial European Union but tend to align themselves with its policies. They agreed to join the League of Nations back in yon day, but only if they were exempt from military requirements.
You'll be getting a picture here of a country that likes to have its fondue and eat it. Yet they have conscription and have twice voted in referendums against abolishing the army. The Swiss are multi-lingual – ken? – and have a strong national identity based on vaguely Alpine values and perhaps the offspring of a marriage between Teutonic efficiency and Gallic appreciation of the good life.
In 1988, Switzerland came 13th in the EIU rankings. The United States came first, but is now 16th. Switzerland's relatively low score back then was partly attributed to the inclusion in the methodology of a "philistine factor" (for cultural poverty) and a "yawn index" (for being boring).
"However," as Laza Kekic, the EIU's director of country forecasting services, says, "there is surely a lot to be said for boring stability in today's uncertain times."
Spot, as it were, on. That's a point this column has often made. Excitement, particularly in politics, is almost always a bad thing. We might not be landlocked but surely we can do dull, as this column has frequently demonstrated.
Here's my wish for 2013: May we live in uninteresting times.
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