IF you are to believe the results of a BBC poll, change is in the air. PG Wodehouse’s comment that it’s never difficult to tell between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine might soon be consigned to the past, and with it an Edinburgh Festival Fringe favourite. Just picture the rewriting of a thousand comedy acts poking fun at our miserabilism. Once the common factor in an otherwise disputatious, wilfully downbeat nation, now it is as old hat as tartan trews.

Meanwhile, the ebullience of our southern neighbours appears to be waning. According to this UK survey, Scots (and Welsh) are more optimistic about the future than the English, with only 29 per cent of us saying the country’s heyday is in the rear view mirror, while 36 per cent think the best is still to come. A mere eight per cent think that right this minute is the best it’ll ever be. Personally, I’m with them. By many measures, as a society we are in a better place than our grandparents – and even than we ourselves were 10 or 15 years ago. The future is unknowable, but political and environmental clouds are fast gathering on the horizon so it’s fair to assume today is as good as it will get.

In marked contrast, the English are far more nostalgic, with almost half – 49 per cent – believing their green and pleasant land was at its finest in yesteryear, and only 17 per cent predicting better things in the decades to come. I’d love to know what they deem “the past’. Is it the magnificent days of Elizabeth I’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, or when the map was coloured pink with colonies? Is it the D-Day landings, Margaret Thatcher’s prime, or for that matter Tony Blair’s? Or are they referring to the pre-devolution era, when all the wheels were bolted on to the British bus?

Whatever the yardstick, this poll points to a remarkable reversal of the status quo. Naturally, the figures explore the voting preferences of those who feel either more or less gloomy, including the nuanced predictions of Leavers and Remainers. Not surprisingly, Scottish Tories think the country peaked some time ago, while independence voters are like evangelical Christians, anticipating the glory that will one day descend to earth.

What I find most interesting, however, is not what you could call ballot-box minutiae, but the broad picture. How astonishing that there is a changing mood north of the Border, that a spirit of optimism is afoot. This surely suggests more than party political confidence or disappointment, especially since many of us, of all political hues, are doing our best not to be downcast as Brexit draws near.

England’s mild depression makes sense, if you view the Leave vote as an indication of discontent rather than a step towards empowerment. It is disconcerting, though, to learn that our cousins in the south are under a cloud. Since the four kingdoms were created, we have looked to England for irrepressible – often overweening – self-confidence. Not until now had I appreciated how much of a given this has been. To see these statistics is like discovering a close friend has been on anti-depressants for years without mentioning it – disturbing and upsetting.

Apart from hinting at sadness and misgiving, it also highlights the increasingly pronounced differences between them and us, and in our sense of who we are. The English appear finally to have realised that being British is not as important to everyone else. Thus to their shakier sense of identity is added the feeling of being snubbed, or rejected. No wonder they are sailing towards the doldrums.

Back in sunny Scotland, I am not convinced the pandemic of happiness can be entirely attributed to the nationalist tendency, nor to pinning hopes on gaining independence anytime soon. Some, of course, are holding out eagerly for that historic day, but those of us who find it hard to shrug off our engrained predisposition for fearing the worst are less certain that this is imminent. Even if it is, the prospect raises as many questions and problems as it answers and solves. In the short term the ride is likely to be as wobbly as a cork on the Corryvreckan. Independence is a state of mind, not a cure-all.

I can’t, sadly, help wondering if this uncharacteristic good cheer is mere whistling in the dark. Certainly, if asked how things are, I will emphasise the positive. After all, we are schooled in counting our blessings. At the same time, those of my generation or older are wary even of predicting a bright summer’s day, lest it tempt the fates to deliver rain. When the poet Alastair Reid shared his delight at a fine Fife morning with a by-passer, she replied, “We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it.” It is a dread response, the killer of joy, and an attitude that too many of us have unconsciously and perniciously imbibed. If nothing else, this poll gives grounds for hope that more of us are choosing to identify as sunbeams rather than raindrops.