Both the New Year’s Honours and the Queen’s Birthday Honours lists are said by some to be increasingly abused and debased to award political favours.
However, there is no doubt that in this year’s New Year’s list, Dornoch’s Professor David Bell has deservedly been made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) as a reward for his sterling service to economics and public policy in Scotland.
David, 66, has been Professor of Economics at Stirling University since 1990, and he is quick to give credit to where he believes credit is due. He emphasises: “This is a great and unexpected honour. I would like to thank my family, my colleagues at Stirling University and my teachers and lecturers at Dornoch Academy, Golspie High School, Aberdeen University and the London School of Economics for their support.”
He was also awarded a PhD by Strathclyde University in 1984.
Stirling University’s principal, Professor Gerry McCormac, doubly hit the nail on its head by pointing out: “David has made an outstanding contribution to the work of the university, and as well as positioning it as a leading authority in the field of economics, he has played an instrumental role in shaping government policy.
“This award represents fitting acknowledgement of David’s achievements and contribution to society.”
Bell was quickly identified by the teaching staff at Dornoch Academy as a potential high-flyer and high achiever whose academic prowess was complemented by diligence and a disarming boyish smile and charm.
Although inclined to be somewhat intense at times, David exudes an air of inner confidence – a local lad, a keen sportsman, and spotted early on as being a likely lad to go far in whatever his chosen profession.
And when Scotland opted for devolution, David was the right man in the right place at the right time for Stirling University – a very steady pair of hands, specialising in labour economics and fiscal federalism, and judged sound enough to advise the Scottish, UK and Irish Governments.
This included acting as specialist adviser to the House of Lords economic affairs committee for its investigation into the financing of devolution.
He is also a regular expert witness to parliamentary committees, both at Holyrood and Westminster.
Bell is currently leading a new landmark study by Stirling University to improve the lives of Scotland’s older population by providing policymakers with a comprehensive insight into the economic, health and social circumstances of older Scots.
The Healthy Ageing in Scotland study collected data from 1000 Scots over the age of 50 – providing a wealth of information that will inform, influence and support the debate around how Scotland tackles problems posed by its ageing population.
Despite being recently appointed vice-president for the arts, humanities and social sciences of the very prestigious and exclusive Royal Society of Edinburgh’s council, there are no airs or graces or affectation about David Bell. He is self-effacing to the point of almost doing himself down – but justly self-confident, a deep thinker with a studious bearing hiding a wry and appealing sense of humour.
And along the way he has become an extremely well-infomed and incisive talking head offering broadcasters such as BBC TV and radio and Channel 4 and The Scotsman newspaper with a deep pool of expertise including youth unemployment, constitutional change, education policy and long-term care.
In this respect perhaps he could follow in the footsteps of fellow academic, John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, whose increasing presence on television and radio has seen him become the UK’s leading pollster, and knighted in this New Year Honour’s list for his services to social sciences and politics.
Sir John commented: “It seems my attempts to analyse public opinion and outline its implications for the country’s political life are appreciated and for that I am duly grateful.”