Health – the Glasgow Effect

Posted by Euan Bennet on 28/08/2014

Still reeling from my post from the other day going viral – over 20,000 views yesterday and already over 8,000 today – not entirely sure what I did right. Thanks everyone who read it and shared it! Just a quick post today because this video was posted in the comments and it touches on some stuff I’ve been thinking about recently:

Back in May 2014, Wings over Scotland posted an article about an academic study which tried to explain the Glasgow Effect – that is, why Scotland and Glasgow in particular have such poor health and life expectancy indicators when compared to the rest of Europe.

The study was carried out by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health in 2011, and can be found here: click here to read the GCPH report. This is an academic study which analyses possible causes for the divergence in mortality rates between Glasgow, Scotland, and Europe. It’s a very detailed report which uses research techniques to measure the likelihood that each considered factor contributes to the effect. Page 61-64 show the summaries of all the (17) factors considered. Page 72 shows the simplified diagram of factors combining. 

The report identifies vulnerabilities, triggers, mechanisms and outcomes. Explanations are grouped into ‘upstream’, ‘midstream’, and ‘downstream’ categories. For example, poverty and inequality are upstream, but drug overdoses are downstream.

The report found that the most likely trigger for mortality divergence starting in 1980 is ‘political attack’.

A factor in the political attack found in the report is the stress of powerlessness mentioned in the video. Coincidentally for the mortality divergence beginning in 1980, the previous year had seen a majority of 52% vote Yes to devolution, but the result overturned by the disgraceful and anti-democratic ‘40% rule’.

The report mentions that the first point of divergence of Scottish mortality rates, in the 1950s, cannot be easily explained. Coincidentally, 1949 was the year that the Scottish Covenant was delivered to Westminster; a petition calling for a Scottish Parliament, signed by over 2 million people out of a population of 5.1 million. It was ignored. 

Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Scotland’s mortality rate diverged from the rest of Europe in 1950 after our democratic will was ignored. It diverged again, further, after our democratic will was ignored for a second time. Though the subsequent ‘political attack’, to use the words of the report, will surely have accelerated that decline. If there is a No vote next month, then that is the greatest expression of powerlessness yet. A No vote says that we are happy to leave the power in someone else’s hands instead of taking it for ourselves. The ‘political attack’ that will follow will eclipse what was seen in the 1980s, whichever party is in power at Westminster


Independence doesn’t guarantee an improvement in our health and mortality, but it at least gives a chance to tackle the root causes instead of just futilely treating symptoms. A No vote, based on past evidence, will make things worse.


3 thoughts on “Health – the Glasgow Effect

  1. Pingback: Euan’s Ramblings: collected for reference | The Science of Independence

  2. Laura Vivanco

    I suppose this was the science which explains why Sir Harry Burns, a former Scottish chief medical officer, recently said that

    Scottish independence could be “very positive” for the country’s health.

    Sir Harry Burns told BBC Scotland that people’s health could be improved if they felt more in control of their lives. […]

    Speaking to the Crossfire programme on BBC Radio Scotland, Sir Harry said: “The question is, would people in an independent country feel more in control of their lives?

    “If they did, then that would be very positive for their health. If people felt that they were able to engage more with local government, with central government and make choices more easily for themselves then that would improve their health.” (BBC)

    1. juanbonnets Post author

      Thanks again for posting the video! Pretty shocking stats, we’re going to have a lot of work to do after independence to improve the lives of all of our citizens. Someone in Harry Burns’ position should know the score, so I’m glad he’s on record as saying what you’ve posted.


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